The Realm of Joroin
Season of Sorrow
Autumn…The rain was cold, colder than the land it fell on. Steam rose from Black Paws upper arms where they lay bare between the black leather wrappings that ran from palms to elbow and the grey tanned-leather hides that protected his shoulders. The breath from his nostrils misted in the cool air as he looked over the ledge he crouched atop. Slowly, silently, he reached up to a broad leaf hanging above him that was one of the last of the season. Dragging fingers along its surface, he placed them in his mouth taking in the moisture harvested from the leaf without moving or turning his head. A hide covered shield slung across Black Paws back made tiny drumming noises as the rain danced across its surface. A rugged, notched scimitar whose care had obviously been compromised lay across the raggle-taggle scrubs of grass slipping through the fingers of autumn’s cloying grasp. Sliding his fingers from past his lips, Black Paws absently flexed his hand open and closed. When it was cold and damp, the old wounds ‘neath the wrappings ached with old memories of their own.
Sarlane’s scream cut through the night like a black arrow, grief tearing his face into shards of sorrow. Bloody spittle ran from his mouth which was open in continuance of his scream in spite of the failure of his lungs to power it. It fell upon the ground three feet below where he hung. Sarlane felt scabrous fingers dig roughly into his long hair and jerk his head upright. An orc face stared into his weeping eyes, patchy coarse hair sprouting from it in random patches and a single tusk from it’s lower jaw protruding through a hole in it’s upper lip. As the orc smiled cruelly at Sarlane’s misery, the lip slid up and down the tusk with mirthful rhythm.
“You scream good for only a piece of an elf. I didn’t think you had it in you, half-breed.”
The orc savagely threw down the half-elf’s head, his chin bouncing off his chest. Sarlane crying out as the motion tugged his hands and feet against the nails that secured him to the tree near his family’s cabin. Fresh blood watered it roots as it rained from his wounds.
Raising his head, lips curled in agony, Sarlane stared pleadingly at the sneering orc.
“Why?! WWWHHHHYYYY????!!…” Sarlane roared expending the dregs of his strength in futile rage.
The orc looked genuinely dumb-founded for a moment, then broke into a hearty laughter. Looking back over his shoulder, the orc gestured towards his fellows as they dragged bags of grains, barrels of smoked fish, armloads of cheese and other staples from the cabin and barn. The screams of Sarlane’s two horses had faded and they were now being gutted and stripped of their meat by goblin camp followers loyal to the main orc patrol.
“Because, elf-filth! You don’t DESERVE all of this! You do not DESERVE to eat! Or DRINK! You do not…DESERVE TO LIVE!” the orc boomed into Sarlane’s face, charging up to the half-elf and grasping his face in a vise-like grip, the slobber from his words punctuating each syllable as it leapt from the orc’s lips to Sarlane’s face.
“I once led a mighty tribe, scum! Many were the warriors that slammed their jacks against the tables of my halls, chanting my name! KREEGAN! KREEGAN! KREEGAN! “ Kreegan released Sarlane from his grasp and walked in a small circle with arms raised as he bellowed his own name. The members of his patrol slowed in their looting, but did not stop. Foul smiles even crept up to a few greenish lips.
Completing his circle and wheeling once more close to Sarlane’s face, Kreegan was a visage of the blackest spite. Drawing from deep in his skull, Kreegan loosed a wad of spit onto Sarlane so fetid that it would have made him vomit had he the strength to do so.
“Now, after our losses in what the effeminate garbage like you calls The Elemental Wars, what forces are left to me barely heed my commands and our way back into the Great Northern Mountains no longer lies open to us. The Icy River, though less bountiful, will prove easier to ply than Saddle-Brook. Its leaders are soft, weak and easily frightened. There, scum, I will rebuild my tribe and rally the other tribal leaders. Then, farmer, we will return and lay low the dregs of Saddle-Brook.”
“No…” Sarlane mumbled, his strength lasting on tenuous strings, “…WHY?”
Green eyes set in slightly almond-shaped orbits lolled towards two bodies near Sarlane. One was a human woman, beautiful…her simple dress torn from her body. Slash marks, bites, and broken bones littered the landscape of her quality. Her eyes spoke of horror, as they gazed unseeingly into the night air, their sight filled with blood that perfect blue iris’ floated upon. Her neck was a purplish mass of wreckage from where it had been crushed by rough hands nearly to the spine.
The short bark of laughter from Kreegan was as black as it was heartfelt.
“You want to know…why? Because…”
Kreegan gestured with an open hand towards the cabin door where the sandaled foot of a young girl was partly exposed, the rest of the body beyond the door frame that was flecked with blood and gore.
“…you are an abomination, half-breed! No progeny of yours should ever walk this world to fall somehow under the singular gaze of Grummsh!”
Turning his back on Sarlane, Kreegan pointed towards two kobolds nearby fighting like rabid cats over the personal effects of Sarlane’s wife.
“You! You two! Get over here!”
The draconic raiders immediately broke their quarrel and scrabbled over to Kreegan, scooping up short bows as they did so, arrows dancing and falling out of their quivers as they climbed and scratched over each other to be the first to Kreegan’s boots.
“Time to move out boys!” Kreegan yelled, though no other head turned to acknowledge his commands. Frowning, he looked down at the slavering pair groveling before him.
“You want to earn your place among my patrol? Then start by disposing of this offal.”
A single finger indicated the kobolds’ target, and wicked malicious grins broke over their faces as the strung their bows. Kreegan began walking away, towards his men who were already advancing towards the direction of The Icy River.
“Help! Somenoooody, help! Help meeeeee!…”
The cruelest smile of the day curled up Kreegan’s lips, his upper lip once more stroking the singular tusk lovingly as he walked slowly away, savoring his captive’s desperation.
Two whistles punctuated by meaty thuds cut short the half-elf’s plaintive screams. A throaty gurgle followed that was also silenced by an arrow, though one missed its mark and buried tip-deep into the tree.
Sarlane’s body fell limp, and the two kobold archers cocked their heads to one side, like dogs attempting to understand something they could not quite grasp. One turned to see that their fellows had all gone, and ran to the dead woman’s belongings, snatching up a dress and running off. The other kobold gave chase, and they vanished into the night tugging and clawing at each other over the clothing as they ran.
Slowly Black Paws hand drifted to the hilt of his weapon, its cold metal banishing the pain in his hand. A shrug of his lean shoulders and he shield slid down onto his forearm. He turned to look at Ghostdancer, the immense black wolf that had sat unmoving next to him, silent sentinel in the half-elf’s vigil. Her emerald eyes glowed with the light of the orc’s campfire, their scrutiny indiscernible. Reaching out his shield hand to lightly touch the wolf’s shoulder, Black Paws looked into the night sky. The full moon had reached its apex. The only sound Black Paws had made in six hours came from him in a single phrase.
“Thank you once more, Sehanine.”
Orcs and their monstrous kin stopped dead still as the sound of two howls cut the air. Then sparks flew as a portly orc who had been cooking meals near the fire was hit by a fury of fur and fangs and barreled over into it, his throat a ruin.
A scant second later, the lean shadow of Black Paws dropped into the now darkened circle of enemies.
“Which one of you is Kreegan?” he growled.
The screams of dying orcs were not the answer Black Paws sought, but on this night it would be the only one he received.
He would ask the question many…many…more times.