The Orc, p.1A G Rosai / Fantasy
br /> Copyright 2014 A G Rosai
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My feeling of despair grew stronger still. The sun was already high in the cloudless sky, shining relentlessly, changing the endless, godforsaken desert into one huge furnace. I felt the fierce sunshine burning my skin painfully and the heat drying out my body. My steps became sluggish, and I felt dizzy. I knew that if I couldn’t find shelter soon, I wouldn’t survive the day. No man can survive the blazing wastes of the Great Desert of Doom in the daytime. You have to travel at night and rest in the shadows during the day, otherwise you don’t stand a chance; in fact, you have a very good chance of perishing even then. My stomach clenched tighter as I grabbed my canteen to check it again; it was far too light. I had perhaps two or three sips of water left, and I knew that wasn’t even enough to get me through the morning.
Four days earlier, a strong horde of many dozens of kobolds ambushed our small party of seven soldiers—some of whom were my friends. I fought like a devil, but the sheer number of the attackers overwhelmed us. Bloody kobolds, when you bump into them they swarm like locusts, and there are always more of them than you think! The last thing I could recall was a hard blow hitting the back of my helmet, sending me to the dusty ground; then I blacked out. I remembered my first shock after the fight, when I woke up lying in the dirt and realised that I alone had survived the surprise attack. My body was covered in blood, dirt, and bruises. That was probably the reason that I was still alive: the kobolds must have thought, seeing my gore-covered body lying motionless on the ground, that I was dead just like all the rest. Luckily, the gore wasn’t all mine, and to my great surprise my wounds—there were several of them—were all minor. I knew I had to fulfil my orders. I had been given a request which was to be delivered to the Supreme Commander of the Eastern Armies. I had no time to waste; I couldn’t even bury the fallen. Then came the second shock: all of the pack horses were gone, along with all of our supplies. I could only salvage a short sword and two canteens of water, both from beneath dead bodies. Apparently, the kobolds were satisfied with the pack horses and their burden, and hadn’t searched the dead men thoroughly. It’s fair enough to say that the odds were heavily against me; but I was a soldier, and I had my orders. I had to try, no matter what. In any case, there was no other quick-enough route back to the Kingdom—only the one through the great wastes of sand.
After a few hours of walking, I decided to travel as lightly as possible. I cast off everything but the sword—for a soldier must never be without his sword—and the water. I even got rid of my shirt and my boots; it was easier to walk barefooted in the ankle-deep, fine sand than to have the same sand inside my boots all the time, rubbing my feet unbearably. The desert nights were a bit cold, but not too cold as long as I kept moving; during the day, there was certainly no need for any extra piece of cloth. Every ounce of weight shed could mean the difference between reaching the first outpost and dying miserably in the desert.
With the blistering sand roasting my bare feet and the sun burning my skin, the decision to throw away my shirt and boots didn’t seem to be such a brilliant idea anymore. The bitter thought came again: I would die that day. But no, that couldn’t happen: I had to make it. Hundreds of lives depended on my success; the remnant of our once-great army fighting desperately with the kobolds. If not for myself, I had to survive for those soldiers still struggling back there, somewhere beyond those endless dunes of sand, far from their home. Delivering the request—that was the only thing that counted.
My heart skipped a beat when I glimpsed the large rocks. At first, I thought it was just my imagination playing tricks on me, but staggering towards them, I found that they were no illusion. One of them had a protruding top part that casting shadows beneath; that could be my much-needed shelter for the day. I felt relieved.
I was only fifty or so paces away from the rocks when I noticed the orc. Although I’d never seen an orc before—I’d fought only against the kobold tribes of the east—I had heard many stories and seen many paintings and drawings of them. To my utter surprise, he didn’t look at all as savage and barbarous as his kind was usually portrayed. But it was true that he was tall, at least a foot taller than myself, and more muscular than any man I’d ever seen. Just like me, he wore only pants, so I could see that his skin truly did have a slightly greenish tone. His short tusks suited him quite naturally; they were nowhere near as huge as those of a warthog, which was how some stories depicted them. It was plain that he was tired as well, and I couldn’t overlook his injuries: a huge cut on the left thigh, seen through a big hole in his pants, and another on the chest.
Tired and injured, the orc still walked at a faster and more lively pace than I did. I had no doubt that he could easily catch up to me if I decided to make a run for it—not to mention that there was nowhere to run but into agony and certain death in the blazing desert. Despite the fact that he was still walking towards the rocks rather than towards me, I was positive that he noticed me as well. So I drew my sword—it was lucky that I had decided to keep it—and continued to approach the rocks. I didn’t know whether I had any strength left for a fight with a much stronger, although injured, opponent; but I couldn’t give up.
When we were only a few steps away from each other, the orc spoke. His voice was a deep growl, completely articulated and understandable nonetheless.
“You can sheathe your sword, human. I mean no harm to you.” He looked at me indifferently and kept strolling towards the rock formation.
This time I was even more astonished than before, as I didn’t know orcs could speak our language—at least, not with this ease and fluency. Yet I didn’t trust him, so I kept my sword, slightly lowered, in my hand. My heart was still beating in my throat.
Without any warning, he twisted round and jumped towards me, grabbing the naked blade with his bare hand and jerking the sword out of my hand. It all happened in a mere fraction of a moment; I didn’t even have the time to react. I just stood there, petrified. I’d never thought such a sizeable creature could move that fast. Also, yanking a sword out of one’s hand by grabbing and pulling it by the naked blade was unheard of—and I was no novice or weak man by any measure. I couldn’t imagine how I would fight such a skilled combatant. I felt great respect for all of those soldiers who had ever fought an orc and managed to survive, let alone defeated one.
The orc studied the blade for a short while. His hand was bleeding at first, but after a few drops of red blood, it stopped (yes, orcs have red blood just like humans, I learnt). It didn’t seem like a serious injury for him, but I guessed that it’d pissed him off. I thought he would cut me down; for the hundredth time that day, I thought that I would die. But instead, he just threw the sword away. It landed fifty or sixty paces off. I didn’t even make an effort to recover it as I knew it would be in vain.
“Come, sit in the shadows, unless you are keen to have yourself roasted.” Confused and speechless, I followed him into the shadows.
“Are you tongueless or something?” he asked, once we made ourselves as comfortable as was possible on the bare rocks. It was an enormous relief to be sheltered from the sun and to feel warm sand under my feet instead of burning, hot sand. I kept my eyes on the orc; I didn’t trust him.
“I just … thought you would kill me.” I spoke the truth.
“I told you I meant no harm. You didn’t believe me, did you?”
“Er, well, I’ve never met with an orc before, and the stories say that …”
“That we’re all dumb but aggressive, brutal, merciless, cold-blooded killing machines, never ever to be trusted, right?”
“They actually do say something like that.” I didn’t see any reason to lie about this.
“Grrr, I’ll tear out your heart and eat it while it’s still beating! Boo!” he roared threateningly. Seeing that I’d almost jumped, he burst into a laughter that did the heart good. After a few moments, I couldn’t help laughing along with him. “Don’t worry, human, I was just pulling your leg. Sorry, I couldn’t miss out on that one. So, what else do your stories say?” The atmosphere turned more relaxed. I noticed his groan; laughing must’ve been painful for him with that huge and deep-looking cut wound stretching across half his chest and belly.
In answer to his question, I said, “Well, they don’t really have any mention of orcs being able to speak our language.”
“It’s quite true—not too many of us can speak your language. But an orc warrior is by no means expected to talk a lot.