The Revenge of the Dwarves d-3, Page 2Markus Heitz
Two large solidly built forms became visible at the end of the passage, blocking out the fire’s light. The vague smell he knew so well was getting stronger, and shadows flew along the cave wall toward him. He could not yet see any details, but it seemed that the orcs from the Outer Lands were no less tall than those from southern Girdlegard.
They approached him, their deadly barbed spear points facing the ground. Gronsha assumed the vicious metal hooks would simply rip off under pressure and stick in the victim’s flesh. He regarded the weapon with respect.
A third shape joined them, hurrying up with a lantern to shine on him.
Soon they were in front of him-he saw to his surprise one of them was a female. Not only did the sight of her, with all those rings in her ears and the unusually delicate nose, excite him, but he wondered what she was doing casting her lot in with these warriors. It wouldn’t happen back in Toboribor. Women should be seeing to the food and the kids. And to the needs of the fighting men, to his own needs, at once, right here.
“Don’t move your hands,” she ordered in her husky voice. The lance point was placed at his throat and forced him over toward the wall. “Stay there. Brother.” The other orcs laughed.
Gronsha studied their armor and the helmets. They really weren’t using the life-saving coating of fat on the metal plates. They’d stand no chance like that in a proper fight. He couldn’t see the point of making your enemy’s job easier. All in all they looked fairly clean. At any rate they were much cleaner than him. Unhealthily clean.
He started to feel envious. That armor indisputably came from an orc forge. But the quality of the metal and handiwork was way above anything that he had ever seen made by Prince Ushnotz’s smiths. Could that be why they were able to dispense with the coating of fat?
“I am Gronsha. Take me to your leader,” he commanded, stretching to his full height. “It is possible that I am being followed. It would be as well for you to watch out.”
The woman looked along the passageway he had come down and then sent the two warriors out to check. “You’re from… where?”
“Toboribor?” She did not even look at him; she was watching what was going on down the passage. “What kind of a name is that?”
“ What kind of a name is that? ” he grunted indignantly. He was surprised. “It is a mighty orc kingdom, far to the south of Girdlegard.”
Now she did grace him with a glance. The expression in her pink eyes hovered between indifference and disdain. “An orc kingdom? That is good news for once. If it’s in the south, what are you doing in the north?” Her accent was painful for him: too clear and sharp. Arrogant, more like. “So you’re lost?”
“I command the troops of Prince Ushnotz, who rules Toboribor. I am here to look for allies to help us fight the Groundlings…” He bent the truth a little and noted from her face that she did not get his meaning. “You don’t know who the Groundlings are?” It was getting more and more difficult. “Then you are indeed blessed by Tion and Samusin, if you haven’t met this plague of ax monsters,” he snorted. He held his hands at hip level to show their height. “This size without their helmets. We call them Beard-Faces and Rock-Lice and usually-”
“Oh, of course. I know them,” she interrupted. The two orcs she’d sent out to reconnoiter were back and gave the all-clear. Nobody had followed him. “Our names for them are different. It’s not often that one of our Brothers ”-she emphasized the word and smiled-“takes the path and comes to Fon Gala.”
“To where?” Gronsha asked.
“Oh, the Outer Lands. That’s what we call it.”
“Welcome.” She widened her smile, baring her teeth and showing her fangs.
Gronsha liked her. He wanted her. When he had captured the stronghold he would take her for his wife and breed many children on her. He bet she’d never had an orc like him. He would break her in and teach her how a woman should behave.
“You may come with me, Gronsha. I’ll take you to our prince. He will be pleased to hear news of Toboribor.” At long last she removed the spear point from his throat and gestured toward the end of the tunnel where the light was coming from. “After you. Brother.” That set the orcs off laughing again.
They reached a large cavern that was part natural, part artificial. A hundred paces wide and two hundred in length, as high as the tallest tower on the Stone Gateway. In the middle a small stream flowed and along its banks black, five-cornered tents had been erected. There were several kinds of smell he noted in the air: food was cooking, and there was beer brewing somewhere. There were coal fires burning in glowing iron braziers.
Gronsha wondered why the normal unmistakable smell of his own people was absent-that heady mix of strength and presence and superiority, that the Red-Bloods said “stank.” The brother and sister orcs from the Outer Lands couldn’t have been here long.
He could not suppress a grin. Guessing at their number, he arrived at a couple of thousand. At least. With a force of that size it would be easy to wipe out the Groundlings.
His companion pointed to the largest black tent. “In there.”
Together they crossed the campsite, followed by the curious gaze of the many orcs gathered there. Gronsha tried to make himself look impressive. He spread his arms a little and made his gait powerful. He bared his teeth and rolled his eyes.
“I’m bringing the prince a phottor,” the orc woman called out merrily. “He’s from an orc kingdom far away.” The others standing around put their heads together and were talking amongst themselves, glancing now and then at the newcomer in admiration. At least, that is how he interpreted their behavior.
“What is a phottor?” he wanted to know, without changing his demeanor. Two of the females were making eyes at him and he puffed himself up even more to impress them.
“That’s what we call you people. In our language it’s a term of honor.”
Gronsha raised his broad chin. He liked honors; they suited him.
As they stopped at the entrance, the orc woman held fast to his arm, warning him, “You must be courteous, Gronsha. Maybe our ways will be different from your own.” Then she pushed him into the tent ahead of herself.
The interior was illuminated by hundreds of lamps. Gronsha saw an orc of mighty physique four paces away, reclining on luxurious bright-colored rugs as he dined. A mantle of black silk was draped around his shoulders; it was the kind of thing an effete Red-Blood would wear. The weapons arrayed behind him on a wooden stand could have equipped a small army. On three of his fingers gold rings reflected the light.
This prince was certainly the biggest orc Gronsha had ever seen. He felt the size of an adolescent in comparison to this giant. His face was broad, with a narrow moustache, and he had a high slanting forehead. The black hair was braided. The prince stopped eating, his curiosity roused. “Kamdra, my dear. What have you got there?”
“Noble Lord Flagur,” she said, bowing to the prince. Gronsha followed suit. “I bring you a gift, Illustrious One. He was found in one of the passageways we thought was defunct.” She pushed Gronsha forward. “He is called Gronsha. His speech is difficult to understand. A degenerate, my lord. But he speaks of an orc kingdom.”
Flagur sat up and placed one hand on his knee, gesturing with the other for Gronsha to approach. “Fine. Gronsha,” he repeated slowly, trying out the sound. “It suits him.” The look in his pink eyes was considerably sharper and more severe than that in the woman’s.
By now Gronsha had got over his surprise, though he was still having to contend with the revoltingly sweet perfumes wafting around inside the tent. Scents, cleanliness and an unfamiliar way of speech. These orcs were not behaving normally at all; certainly not in their treatment of him. It pricked at his pride and he drew himself up. “I am not a thing. And definitely not deg… delg…”
“Degenerate?” suggested Flagur.
Gronsha made to take a step forward, his pride stung to boiling an
ger. “Prince Flagur. You must give me your…” A burning pain bit at the back of his neck. He whirled around, spitting, and saw Kamdra. There was blood on the point of her spear-his blood. “You-”
“No. You will address the prince as Your Lordship and Noble Lord, as you ought.” She held her weapon ready. “I will teach you our ways, phottor.”
He growled at her but made as if to obey. Now he was resolute: he would take this woman, would break her will and make her his slave. He turned back to Flagur. “Give me your support, My Lord,” he repeated. “ We must attack the stronghold of the Groundlings-”
“He means the ubariu, Illustrious One,” Kamdra interpreted.
“No, their ubariu, Noble Lord.” The orc woman sounded highly amused. “It seems they have them over there on the other side of the mountains as well. But they have nothing to do with the phottor, I’m sure.”
Flagur nodded and seemed good-humored now. “We’ll find out about that soon.” He nodded to Gronsha. “And you. Tell me about this orc kingdom of yours.”
Gronsha spoke of Toboribor, about the caves, about his master Ushnotz’s army, about the ineffective bastion clumsily erected by the Groundlings at the Stone Gate, and he told Flagur of the desperate state of the army of men and of elves.
He asked for charcoal and paper to draw a rough map. Pen and ink he left untouched. Unschooled in their use, he would only end up breaking the nib and leaving blotches everywhere. “Girdlegard is easily conquered, Prince Flagur,” he enticed. “I know the territory inside out. Give me your best warriors and I will take the Groundlings’ stronghold.” Another sharp jab in the neck, and Gronsha quickly added a yelled “Your Lordship.” Oh, he had plans for breaking Kamdra’s resistance.
“So that you can hand the stronghold to your own prince?” Flagur laughed outright. “Never.”
Gronsha bowed his head. Blood was trickling down his back inside his armor. “No. I thought that Your Lordship could become the new leader of all the Orcs. Think of it: at least five thousand more fighting men at your disposal. Your Lordship.”
The orc prince’s eyes narrowed. “Why would they follow me?”
“Because I would support you.”
Flagur exploded into hysterical laughter, and then Kamdra joined in, forgetting this time to punish Gronsha for the missing Your Lordship. “Exquisite,” he roared. “Tell me, how are you going to get them to follow a stranger’s command? Would you take over their minds? Even my best rune master would not be able to do that. Not with five thousand.”
Gronsha did not answer, caught unawares. “Rune master?” He blinked.
Kamdra helped him with the word: “A rune master uses invisible powers. You wouldn’t understand, phottor.”
Gronsha understood only too well. He was dealing here with orcs that had their own magus. A magus.
Now it was clear that with their help he would be able to crown himself ruler of all Girdlegard. But for that he needed power over the tribe.
His plan was simple and effective: he would kill Flagur when he got the chance and then he would proclaim himself ruler, according to the custom of the orcs. No one would doubt his superiority ever again, if he were able to kill this giant of an orc. “Illustrious One, do I get your warriors or not?” he asked, adding emphasis to his words.
Flagur, who had by now managed to stop laughing, fell into hysterics again and collapsed onto the rugs and cushions.
That was what Gronsha was waiting for. He hurled himself forward, reaching for his dagger, aiming the blade directly at the prince’s heart.
Still laughing, Flagur grabbed his sword from behind and slashed at the attacker.
It was a brutal blow. Not only was Gronsha thrown off his stroke, but the short sword sliced through his armor and the flesh beneath; streams of his dark green blood were spilling fast and he tipped forward onto the couch where Flagur lay.
“I knew he would try that,” grinned the prince, wiping his blade on the dead orc’s clothing. “It’s a classic move for them. Violence. That’s all they know how to do.”
To make sure, Kamdra stabbed Gronsha in the back with her lance, inserting the barbed tip and using it to haul the corpse off to the door. “Your Noble Lordship was brilliant, as ever,” she said, bowing to him.
But Gronsha was not dead in the least. He used his dagger to slash away behind him, severing the shaft of the lance; he jumped up. The gaping wound in his chest had closed up, with the Blood of the Perished Lands effective as always.
He hurled the dagger at Kamdra and hit her in the left shoulder. Three swift paces brought him face to face with Flagur. He pulled one of the swords out of the weapons stand and brandished it. The prince used his short sword to hit at him and Gronsha stood firm to demonstrate his limitless superiority, taking the blow on his left forearm.
The wound was deep and painful, but it healed over in front of Flagur’s very eyes.
“Look what I can do!” Grunting he turned to Kamdra. “Pull my dagger out of your shoulder and see if you can do the same thing.”
But Flagur, rolling back over his shoulder away from the carpets, selected a spiked mace from the stand, wielding this in one hand and the short sword in the other. “It has a little secret,” he grunted with delight, his pink eyes shining. “You’re not immortal, are you?”
“Yes,” squeaked Gronsha in his excitement, his voice too high and too loud. One stroke, another, and he would be leader of all the orcs. “Unlike you!”
His opponent grinned like a wild animal. “Let us find out.”
He attacked Flagur, who swerved out of the way and had the mace raised in his hand to strike at Gronsha’s back. Expecting the move, Gronsha dived underneath the whirling flail and rammed his sword up to the hilt deep into his enemy’s belly. “Die!” he rejoiced. “I am the new ruler.”
His joy died abruptly as Flagur dropped the sword and grasped Gronsha’s throat in both hands, lifting him bodily into the air, right up to the roof of the tent, at full stretch. The sword in his belly didn’t worry him at all.
Gronsha kicked the hilt of the sword. His foe should have been screaming with pain, but he gave not a murmur.
“Let us talk, Noble One,” Gronsha gasped, terrified for his life. He didn’t attempt to struggle his way out of the vice-like grip. He groped for the leather flask he carried at his belt. “There, in there. That’s my secret. The Black Immortality.”
The fingers pressed harder still and he could feel the vertebrae grating in protest.
Gronsha threw the flask onto the floor. “Take it, by the dark forces of Tion, take it! Take it but let me live,” he whispered. “I want…” His voice failed him; he could get no breath.
Suddenly his neck broke under the enormous pressure. The undead life of Gronsha, the last of the scouting force sent out by Ushnotz, seeped away in the powerful hands of Flagur. The prince threw the cadaver to one side. “Kamdra, get the healer and the rune master,” he said, his voice strong, and he sat himself back onto the cushions, careful to ensure the sword did not snag in the fabric. Only now did he permit himself to show any sign of weakness: he grimaced. The excitement of combat and killing faded away.
“What happens to him?” asked Kamdra, indicating the corpse.
Flagur took up his short sword gingerly, sliced off a strip of calf-flesh from the dead Gronsha, and swirled it around in a bowl of water to get the dirt off. Then he put it in his mouth and chewed. The flavor was a strange one. “Delicious,” he said, and invited her to try the meat.
Kamdra took a taste and her eyes widened. “I’d never have expected that. He stank so strongly I thought we’d have to leave the meat to soak for seven moons.” She bowed and hurried out to fetch the rune master and the healer for her lord.
“Wait,” he called her back. “Send to the ubariu to say we have news for them. They will be very keen to learn what is happening in Girdlegard.” She nodded and left.
Flagur couldn’t control his appetite and he ate sev
eral more strips of flesh from the delicacy he himself had selected and slaughtered. With prizes like that, Girdlegard held a definite attraction for himself and his followers.
He stretched out his hand for the leather flask, opened it and sniffed the contents. The smell was appalling, and the fumes made his eyes water. Revolted, he tipped the liquid into the rubbish, throwing the empty flask along with it.
The weapon piercing his body was torturing him, but he would survive. He put his faith in the help of Ubar, his god, and creator of his people.
Around him everything started to swim. His pink eyes slid over toward the tent door, whence several vague shapes were drawing near. A voice close to his ear said, “Noble Lord, we are about to start. Be strong and may Ubar be with you.”
“He will be,” muttered Flagur, tensing his muscles. “Get on with it.”
The Gray Range on the Southern Boundary of the Fifthling Kingdom,
Spring, 6241st Solar Cycle
The last time I was here everything lay in ruins, Keen-Ears. But this… I’d never have expected this.” Tungdil Goldhand ruffled his gray pony’s mane. Amazed, he took the last bend in the mountain track, stopped and looked up to the top of the five-cornered tower that reached, imposing and impregnable, into the sky. “Not after just five sun cycles.” He used the impromptu halt to put his drinking flask, now nearly empty, to his parched mouth, letting the last few drops of brandy trickle down his throat. The alcohol stung his cracked lips.
Passing the immense building that would have made even an ogre look small, he reached the plain in front of the entrance to the fifthling kingdom, ruled by the descendants of Giselbart Ironeye.
It seemed only yesterday that he had led the twenty-strong reconnaissance troop here with his friend Boindil and his current life-partner, Balyndis.
On that journey they had made their way through a devastated landscape of ruins and moss-covered stones. Most of the fifthlings’ fortifications had been turned to rubble.