Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Nine


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

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On our journey south to save Ignatius Roundtower from the stone prison a magical lizard had shut him in, we stumbled across a pair of ogres who must have been out looking for an easy meal. It was my first experience with real combat and, probably because of that, both Nog and Roystnof told me to stay out of the way. This I did and, after I saw Roystnof strike one down with a lightning bolt, I thought it was all I was going to have to do. But the second ogre surprised us with its ferocity and in an instant I found myself standing between it and the death of my two friends. I had two weapons at my disposal, the shocking grasp spell Roystnof had taught me and the short sword Nog had given me. In all the time I have spent thinking about that one event in my life, I have yet been able to discern exactly what it was that made me choose the sword over the spell.

+ + +

Brisbane spent most of the next day, as usual, with Ternosh in the small chamber where the Grumak had originally conducted the test to see if Brisbane’s blood contained the bane of Gruumsh One-Eye. However, they did not spend most of this time going over the practices and lessons of orkish magic, as they had been doing since Brisbane had been inducted into the klatru. Instead, they spent the time discussing Brisbane’s current position in the clan and what was going to happen after that night’s draknel.

They had two very different opinions. Ternosh, who had alluded to his the night before and reasserted it in the morning, felt Gruumsh One-Eye had truly sent Brisbane to become the clan’s new Sumak, to show them a new kind of battle tactic, and to guide them on the path of victory over their enemies. Because he believed this, he did not think Brisbane had anything to worry about in the upcoming battle with Tornestor. After all, Gruumsh wouldn’t very well send someone to become the new Sumak who could not defeat the old one.

Ternosh had this belief so well burned into him that Brisbane, in his anxiety over facing Tornestor in the pug-trolang, felt safe enough to reveal some of his misgivings about the situation. In effect, for Brisbane, it was time to come clean. He told the Grumak he was firmly convinced Gruumsh One-Eye had not sent him here. He told the Grumak he had no idea what his mission, as spoken of by the Demosk, was and that he had no intention of carrying it out whatever it happened to be. He told the Grumak he did not believe an entity named Gruumsh One-Eye existed. He even told the Grumak the only reason he had spent so much time among them was because he was buying time until he could get his sword back.

Ternosh listened to each of Brisbane’s assertions carefully and, when the human was finished, he passed them all off with a wave of his hand.

“It does not matter what you believe,” the Grumak said. “My Demosk has confirmed Gruumsh has sent you here for some hidden purpose. This information cannot be in error. Your belief is not necessary in the matter. Gruumsh sent you here and here you are. Do you really think we would have left you alive for any other reason?”

“The only reason I’m still alive,” Brisbane said, “is because I can work magic. If I couldn’t, you would have killed me for wearing this symbol.” He pulled his pentacle medallion out from behind his robes.

“This is true,” Ternosh said, “and it only further proves my point. Your magic is a gift from Gruumsh One-Eye, as all magic is. Although you do not have red eyes and as yet have been unable to perform respectable magic, the Demosk has confirmed the taste in your blood and I have seen you work small tricks of your own. Again, your belief of where your power comes from is immaterial. It comes from Gruumsh, and he gave it to you to keep us from accidentally killing you. The logic is inescapable.”

Brisbane listened to the Grumak’s explanation. “You remind me of someone I used to know.”

“Oh yes? When was that?”

“A long time ago,” Brisbane said.

But it was true. For a moment, Ternosh had reminded Brisbane almost painfully of Roystnof. His friend had often talked like that, invoking the almost mystical powers of logic to explain certain situations or policies. Except that when Roystnof had used logic, it had sounded truthful and irrefutable. When Ternosh used it, it sounded crazy. The Grumak said his magic came from Gruumsh One-Eye as if it was a logical fact, and he had no proof to support it. Roystnof said his magic came from within himself as if it was a logical fact, but he too really had no proof to support it. So why did Roystnof’s view seem so much more sensible to Brisbane? Why did he believe Roystnof and not Ternosh? They had both used perfect logic, but each of them had started with a different supposition. Brisbane realized logic could only go so far, that it could be used to argue any point of view at all, and that if you followed it back far enough, eventually you would find a pre-conceived idea or, even worse, a declaration of faith.

Brisbane didn’t know. Did this mean the only use logic had was to prove the unprovable?

He knocked heads with Ternosh for most of the day, not really coming away with anything concrete. Brisbane did not get into any kind of conversation about his reasons for wanting his sword back, afraid of getting too deep into it for many of the same reasons he didn’t discuss it with Smurch. Thankfully, Ternosh did not press the matter, evidently understanding to some degree the commitment he felt to the blade. It was obviously something special, for no one in the clan could draw it from its scabbard. The Grumak did ask Brisbane if, before he had been captured, he had been able to free the weapon.

Brisbane was hesitant in answering but finally told Ternosh he was.

Ternosh shrugged. “Perhaps it is another signal from Gruumsh. A warning to us that you are something special and not to be tampered with. It really doesn’t matter now. The sword belongs to Gruumsh One-Eye, and you will never get it back.”

“I won’t?”

Ternosh shook his head. “I don’t see how you could. The weapon was given in tribute to Gruumsh One-Eye, and every grugan in the clan will defend that to their death. Theft is, at this point, impossible.”

This was much like what Smurch had said to him, yet Angelika was certain, had been certain since this fiasco had begun, that Brisbane would eventually get her back. The problem suddenly was Brisbane wasn’t too sure if he wanted her back. Or, perhaps closer to the truth, he wasn’t too sure what he was ready to do to get her back. He still wanted her back, she was too much a part of him to let go, but her messages to him was souring each time she spoke.

Vengeance, she had said countless time, we must wreak our vengeance for what they have done to you and Amanda. Assuredly, the orks deserved some sort of justice for what they had done, but more and more, Brisbane didn’t feel like he was accomplishing anything. What had he done? He had killed two orks so far, and he had killed them in ways socially acceptable to the rest of the clan. The clan was not suffering for what they had done. The deaths of Wister and Bronsop really meant very little to them. Death was so much a part of life to them that Brisbane could get no sense of revenge out of what he had done. They believed when a warrior was killed in the pug-trolang, it was because he was weak and it had been his time to go.

He was almost tempted to try and discuss this new development with Angelika but, even though he had some time to himself before the evening’s draknel, he decided against it. It didn’t matter much now anyway. He was committed. He couldn’t get out of fighting Tornestor now even if he wanted to. The masokom had been issued. In the customs of the clan, it was in fact Tornestor who was being forced to fight him and not the other way around. Angelika had said if Brisbane could defeat Tornestor in the pug-trolang, the clan would be destroyed and he would get her back. The second promise was motivation enough. Brisbane could only hope her promise was not an empty one.

An hour or so before the draknel, Ternosh wished him well and sent him back to his chamber. At first, Brisbane was thankful for the time alone, thinking it would give him a chance to clear his head, but as it turned out, the time was more detrimental than calming to his state of mind. He tried to relax, laying down on his bed and breathing deeply, but he was just too worked up to get anywhere. There were too many possibilities and open questions. If he had been sure about Angelika’s promises, as he always had been before, then perhaps he could have been calm enough to concentrate on his battle with Tornestor. But as he felt now, he found himself worrying more about what was going to happen after the combat than what was going to happen during it.

He called Smurch into his chamber, to give him someone to talk to and to hopefully take his mind off some of his troubles. But the half-ork was of little help, being full of excitement over the upcoming battle. He was very supportive, wanting only the best for his master, but it wasn’t what Brisbane wanted to discuss. He tried to sidetrack Smurch onto other subjects but either the half-ork was unchangeable or Brisbane’s own mind was too much on the combat, because they always seemed to come back to the fight with Tornestor.

Eventually, Brisbane’s time was up.

Smurch got to his feet. “It is time, Gil. You must now attend this evening’s draknel.”

Brisbane nodded. “I know.”

Smurch helped his master to his feet. “Good luck. The next time I serve you, I hope I will be serving the clan’s new Sumak.”

“Either that or you’ll be burying me,” Brisbane said.

The half-ork gave him a queer look. “Well, that’s true, but I don’t think one in your position should be thinking like that.”

“Why not?”

“Confidence,” Smurch said. “You must have confidence. How do you expect to defeat Tornestor if you cannot win such a simple battle with yourself?”

“I don’t know,” Brisbane said. “I used to have confidence. I don’t know what has happened.”

“Well,” Smurch said. “Best of luck.”

Brisbane looked into the half-ork’s eyes. “Thank you, Jack.”

Smurch nodded. “I’ll see you soon.”

Brisbane slowly left his room and made his way to the banquet chamber. Most of the klatru had already gathered and they were sitting around the table, drinking ale and talking loudly. When Brisbane entered the chamber, a silence fell among them.

Brisbane self-consciously looked at himself when all the orkish eyes stared at him. He was wearing his tunic and trousers, the ones he had been wearing when captured, now freshly cleaned and soft to the skin, under the red and white robes that designated his position in the clan as Grum because, frankly, one way or the other, he was getting out of here tonight. He also saw that his pentacle medallion was lying on the outside of his garments.

When he looked back up at the table, the orks quickly turned their heads away. Brisbane cautiously made his way over to his bench and sat down on the right side of Ternosh. Slowly and quietly, orkish conversation resumed around the stone table.

Ternosh leaned over and spoke softly to Brisbane. “Hello.”

“Hello,” Brisbane said.

“You will have to reissue your masokom to Tornestor tonight. Everyone knows it is still binding and Tornestor will not be able to refuse it or require Riltik to fight for him, but it is a ceremonial requirement. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Brisbane said, watching the portal Tornestor would eventually emerge from.

“Good. Would you like some ale?”

Brisbane nodded, keeping his eyes on the arch. “One mug.”

Ternosh poured and set it before him. Brisbane took a sip. It was cold and delicious.


“Yes, Brisbane?”

“How do you feel about it? I mean, with Tornestor being your brother and all?”

Ternosh looked at the portal with Brisbane, as if the Sumak had just appeared. “Tornestor is my brother. I can remember a time when we were just Tor and Ter, living on the surface with the females and the children. But when I became old enough, my red eyes demanded that I be taken into the cave and trained as a Grum. There was a time when I was much like you, an innocent in a strange world, doing my best to get along in my new environment. I remember what it was like then. I remember what it was like when I had both of my eyes.”

Brisbane turned to look at Ternosh’s profile, seeing his healthy right eye and the strap that held the black patch over what remained of his left, plucked out by his own hand when he became Grumak in honor of the single orb of Gruumsh One-Eye.

“I think Tornestor saw the special treatment I received,” Ternosh went on softly, “and was jealous that his younger brother was suddenly so far above him. He wanted the benefits of the klatru, too, but his eyes were black and, as such, he had only one route open to him. As Tor, he collected as much fame and conquest as he could until he was a leader on the surface and, eventually, the members of the klatru voted him to become one of their elite group. This is the only way it is ever done, and it happens only when one grugan separates himself so much from his peers. In fact, the last grugan to be considered for this honor was Kras, the man you strangled on the river bank when you were captured. Even when you were being held in your cage, news of what you had done to Kras was sending ripples up and down the klatru.”

Brisbane thought about it. He had been insane when he had strangled Kras, mad with rage at being disarmed of Angelika. He barely remembered the incident.

Ternosh continued. “As Tornes, my brother was content for a while, but when I became Grumak, a position of higher rank than the regular klatru, I think the tide of jealousy welled up within him again. His course was then set. The only position in the clan higher than my own is Sumak, and Tornes quickly began his successful quest for it.”

Ternosh turned and looked at Brisbane. “What I’m trying to say is that my brother and I are no longer two nameless whelps, suckling at our mother’s breast. We are now Sumak Tornestor and Grumak Ternosh, the two most powerful members of the Red Eye. Our lives are very different now and we have responsibilities undreamed of by the children on the surface. Even if you were not a human sent by Gruumsh One-Eye, I would not interfere with the masokom you have issued. Tornestor has met and defeated several power-hungry grugan before you. It is his duty to meet and destroy all resistance to his authority. If he cannot do this, then he does not deserve to be our Sumak.”

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “But you think I’m going to win, don’t you?”

“If Gruumsh sent you, you must win.”

“Then your brother will be killed.”

“Yes,” Ternosh said. “My brother will be killed. But he has been a great Sumak. Gruumsh will surely make him a general in his army.”

Conversation around the table was cut off at that moment as Tornestor entered the banquet chamber. The huge ork was dressed as he normally was, all in black with the red sash draped over his shoulder. Behind him and to his right stood Riltik, his right arm ringed with a red stripe. There was no one else with them.

From the time the Sumak entered the room until the time he sat down in his great stone chair, Tornestor did not take his black eyes off Brisbane. He was seated in silence for several moments before Ternosh poked Brisbane in the ribs.

“Stand and issue the challenge,” Ternosh whispered.

Brisbane rose to his feet with everyone’s attention fixed on him. He did his best to ignore them all, concentrating on the furrowed brow and the glowing eyes of Tornestor.

Wow, is he ugly, Brisbane thought. Most orks look like humans with some pig features, and that’s ugly enough, but he’s downright hideous. It’s as if he’s not human at all. He’s all ork. He’s a grugan.

“You wish to invoke your right of statement, Grum Brisbane?” Tornestor’s tone was an angrier version of hostile.

Brisbane took a deep breath. “I formally reissue my masokom to you, Sumak Tornestor. I challenge you to battle in the pug-trolang for mastery of this clan.” He remained standing.

Tornestor did not hesitate. “I, Sumak Tornestor, accept your challenge.” He clapped his hands twice and servants were carrying food into the room before Brisbane had retaken his seat.

Brisbane leaned closer to Ternosh. “Angry, isn’t he?”

Ternosh nodded as the servants put food in front of him and all around the table. “It is his authority you have challenged,” the Grumak said softly. “The last masokom he had was nearly two months ago. He accepted that one directly, not passing it off to one of his Sums. He killed the grugan in twenty-eight seconds. I don’t think he expected another challenge so soon. Of course, you are a special case.”

Brisbane began to pile meat and potatoes onto his plate. “Why is there only Riltik? Doesn’t he replace his Sums when they are killed?”

“He will replace Bronsop tomorrow if he survives. It is a show of respect to your combat skills not to replace him right away. Everyone here knows why Bronsop’s place is empty. When you win, it will be your duty to name another Sum from among the klatru. You will inherit Riltik.”

Inherit. Brisbane thought that was a strange way of putting it.

The draknel continued as it always did, but it was oddly quiet that night. There were conversations among small groups of orks, but there were no stories to be told or songs to be sung. Brisbane ate carefully, not eating too much too quickly, and he held himself to only one tankard of ale. He was used to one meal a day and the only time he ever seemed to be hungry now was an hour or so before draknel. His meals had grown in size, too, due to their infrequency. The meal he ate that night was large enough to fill him but not to stuff him, even though that amount of food would have burst him had he tried to eat it three months ago.

Throughout the draknel, Brisbane found himself in an angry staring match with Tornestor. It seemed every time he lifted his face out of his plate, he saw Tornestor glaring at him, his large hands resting on either side of his platter and his jaw immobile. Brisbane did his best to not let the Sumak’s stare ruin his appetite, but it was not easy.

Finally, the meal was finished and it was time for battle. After the servants had cleared away the large mess and the few leftovers, Tornestor quickly rose from his stone chair and rushed out of the chamber and down the short corridor that led to the pug-trolang. Riltik and the rest of the klatru had to scramble in an attempt to preserve the march-like precision they usually used in going to the battle chamber. Brisbane was not interested in preserving any tradition. He took his time getting up and leaving the chamber. Ternosh stayed with him.

“Well,” Brisbane said to the Grumak. “This is it.”

Ternosh nodded. “This is it.”

Brisbane went down the short tunnel and emerged into the chamber of the pug-trolang. The klatru had already taken their positions around the pit and Tornestor stood a quarter of the way around the circle on his right, arming himself with the armor and weapons that ringed the chamber walls. Brisbane watched him carefully. The ork was so huge Brisbane didn’t think he would be able to find any armor to fit him. The orks made none of their armor or weapons themselves. They stole them all from human craftsmen and warriors. Brisbane himself was one of the tallest humans he had ever met and, at seven feet, Tornestor was a good six inches taller than him.

But the Sumak was able to find something to fit him. With a revelation of shock, Brisbane saw Tornestor was donning the same chainmail poncho Shortwhiskers had bought for Brisbane in Queensburg before they had set out that spring. The same one Vrak had taken from Brisbane when he had been captured on the banks of the Mystic River. The mail had hung down to Brisbane’s knees. On Tornestor, it stopped just below the waist. The Sumak also chose a huge, diamond-shaped shield and a double-edged sword that appeared too heavy for even Brisbane to lift.

Fully outfitted, Tornestor gave Brisbane a final angry look and dropped himself into the pit of the pug-trolang.

Ternosh patted Brisbane twice on the back and then went over to take his place beside the pedestal and Angelika. Brisbane looked longingly at his sword and, at once, her seductive presence made itself comfortable among his thought patterns.

The time has arrived, young Brisbane. The time of our vengeance is upon us. We shall kill their demon leader and destroy their whole wicked band.

Brisbane was not sure if he welcomed her input, but then realized there was little he could do about it. He went over to the wall, trying to ignore Angelika’s influence and began to choose his armor and weapons.

Yes, Brisbane. Arm yourself well. This will be the gravest challenge you have faced yet. But you will prevail. You will be triumphant because I am with you and soon I will be returned to your side. Yes.

Brisbane first thought to wear a heavy breastplate like Bronsop had chosen yesterday, but decided against it. He didn’t want to be weighed down too much, hoping quickness could win out over an ork as large as Tornestor. But he also did not want to go unprotected. At last, he chose a light chainmail shirt, painted black, and a pair of black shin guards to offer some protection to his legs. He fitted the black helmet he had used in the battle against Bronsop on top of his head and chose a black crest-shaped shield with a great red eye painted sloppily in the middle. For his sword, he picked the same, perfectly-balanced weapon he had used twice before.

It really is a fine sword, he thought.

Don’t get too attached to it, Brisbane. This is the last time you will ever have to use it.

I will get you back, won’t I, Angelika?

Yes. Kill this pig and you and I will be reunited.

How? How will I get you back.

You will.

Armed properly, Brisbane walked over to the edge of the pug-trolang. All around the room the klatru were staring at him and, down in the pit, Tornestor was looking up at him. Brisbane’s eyes passed over them all one by one and finally came to rest on Ternosh. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the Grumak nodded his head.

Brisbane dropped himself into the pit.

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