I woke up in clothes so stiff from dried blood that I could barely move. My hair was matted with it, and I could feel it pulling at my skin when I tried to move. I decided I definitely needed to cleanup before our next meeting with Na'Guk.
I don't think this shit is going to wash out though. Guess that means a trip back to The Bar.
"Hey Valsh," I say coming out of my room. "I think I'm going to go back to The Bar and swap out my clothes and check in with Bobby to make sure he hasn't sold my shit and rented out my room. I shouldn't be long. Besides, I've been wanting to try out this ink work you did on my arm. Valsh?"
A quick look around told me that I was talking to an empty room. Well, he is the village shaman with responsibilities to everyone under his care. I figure I'll probably be back before he is anyway, so I touch the runes on my forearm and a portal appears right in front of me. I can see my room at The Bar just on the other side, so I step through and close the door behind me. My head swims for a second from being in two dimensions at once. It clears relatively quickly, and I start stripping off the nasty shit I'm wearing.
I step into the wash basin that's set into the floor in one corner of my room and activate the portal that serves as my shower. Warm water cascades down from just above my head and the last couple of weeks of dirt, sweat, and blood flow away down a drain portal to somewhere else. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be clean. A bonus was that the warm water was soothing on my sore muscles. Rest is good, but a warm shower is the next best thing to heaven.
After I was dressed and felt almost human again, I headed down to the main room to grab some food and a drink and just check in with Bobby. He was behind the bar like always, talking to the few customers sitting there and wiping the top of it with the rag he usually kept tucked in his belt. He looked up as I came down the stairs and excused himself from the conversation. He got to my seat about the same time I did.
As I was taking my seat Bobby asked, "You done already? I figured this one would take longer than that. From what Valsh was telling me when he was here, this wasn't going to be a sneak up, stab, and get out kind of gig."
"I'm not, and it isn't. Why can't this shit ever be easy like that? Always some fucking complication that makes it harder. Long story man. I just came back to clean up and gather a few more things I might need. Can I just get some Scotch and a bowl of stew? I've been missing that stuff. Then I've got to get back."
Don't get me wrong, Valsh's cooking is good, but he's not Bobby. If I thought the shower was the next best thing to heaven, the food and that Scotch was like eating on the right side of the Pearly Gates. I took my time working through two bowls of the stuff and three glasses of Scotch. While I ate, I told Bobby the story so far. He threw lots of "uh-huh" and 'hmmm" and even an "interesting" type of comments at me in all the appropriate places.
When I finished he said, "Sounds like you've got a lot of work ahead of you. You'd better get back to it. Oh, and a piece of advice from some one with a few more years in the multiverse than you. Find a way to make Shala break it off herself. If she's attached herself to you at all, it won't be an easy thing for you to walk away. Orc females can get rather possessive of men they believe they have a claim to."
"Noted," I said rising to head back upstairs, "and thanks."
"Hey Tole, before you go someone left this for you," Bobby said and then he pitched me a token. Nice to know the multiverse gonna keep me working for the foreseeable future.
"Never seen 'em before. They said just rub the center of the token when you’re ready to talk, and they'll come back. Must not be too desperate."
Oh goody. I love surprises.
I nodded and headed back up to my room. I dropped the token on my table beside my bed and gathered up another couple of changes of clothes. Then I opened a portal back to Orta'ahn trying to land it close to the time I left and in Valsh's hut...I missed. I got the timing right, but instead of Valsh's place I stepped through into Shala's hut. She was sleeping, and she looked like she wasn't hurting. I let myself out quietly. She must've been on my mind, and the magic of The Bar put the portal where I was focused.
I found Valsh leading a ceremony over a new orc pup. He blessed the child and prayed for him to be a strong and worthy warrior plus a lot of other orcish bullshit. It took quite a while, so I kind of hung around and watched. It was interesting. The last part of the rite involved cutting the palm of both parents and the pup and mingling their blood in a small cup. Valsh then painted runes on the pup's forehead and chest and gave one final prayer.
Once he was done and they had left, he walked straight over to where I was sitting and plopped his rather large orcish ass down on the log bench next to me. We sat there for a few minutes before he said, "You look better. Where did you find time to bathe and clean your clothes?"
"Cut the bullshit and ask me what you want to know. You want to know why I jumped the wall like a fool and took on those orcs risking the entire reason I am here."
"The question has crossed my mind," he said.
"To tell you the truth I didn't even realize what I was doing until I was in the middle of the fight. I'm not sure what happened. I saw her being carried and wanted the ones responsible dead, plain and simple."
"To hear the ones on the wall tell it you fought like nothing they had ever seen. Some even say you moved like a ghost among the raiders making their movements look slow and clumsy by comparison. I knew you were skilled, but what are you?" he asked.
"Really fucking lucky," I replied. "How long until our meet up with Na'Guk? Is there anything I need to know to do or not do?"
"No, this meal is informal. I think your actions today have won you some favor with him. He will likely give you your first task as a scout. We will gather in the Great Hall in about two hours, just after sundown."
"Good," I said and we got up and headed back to his hut.
Valsh and I entered the Great Hall together, but Shala rose and met me at the door and led me to a seat beside her that was directly to Na'Guk's left. Valsh found a spot across the table from me to Na'Guk's right. He looked a little uneasy. We neither one knew what the War Leader was going to ask me to do, so I guess I can understand how he felt. I wasn't worried. After the things I had done for Command in my previous life, there really wasn't much that could shock me anymore.
I don't know what I expected, but after the festivities a few nights ago what I was not expecting was a civilized dinner. There was a nicely set table surrounded by cushions. Oh, and cutlery, there was cutlery. Other than carving knives, that was not something I had seen up to that point. Don't misunderstand me, by formal dining standards back on Terra they had a long way to go, but it was nice.
While it was nice, I was in a room full of warriors with short fuses. My brain kicked over into threat assessment mode without me even wanting for it to happen. First thing that caught my eye was that, except for Na'Guk's personal guard, no one was carrying. Pointy things were surrendered at the door. With the exception of the cutlery, the room was "safe."
Speaking of the guard, they were every-fucking-where. There was the standard pair by the door, inside and out, and a couple behind Na'Guk. There was also one standing at ease about every four feet the entire way around the Great Hall. A quick head count gave me a total of thirty of the fanatical bastards. Can you say paranoid boys and girls? I knew that you could. Having to fight my way out of this would rank very high on the suck-o-meter. Right, play nice.
The only other really odd thing was the pup sitting right next to Na'Guk. It wasn't until we started eating that I figured out his place. He tasted everything set before the War Leader. I wouldn't think that the orc honor-based society would allow for poisoning, but if what Valsh had been telling me was true, paranoia was trumping history and heritage all over the place.
The meal lasted for hours. Shala spent quite a bit of it feeding me and nuzzling her forehead to the side of my head. Her breath in my ears sent little waves of electricity down my spine. Could have been the little sublingual growl that accompanied each exhale I'm not sure. What I was sure of was her intention once this meal was done. I don't really think either one of us was paying much attention to anything but each other through most of the festivities.
Once the party started to wind down, Na'Guk raised his hand and brought silence to the room. When everyone was quiet and focused on him he said, "Today one of our hunting parties was attacked, unprovoked, by our new enemies from the Green Mountain tribe. Fortunately, tragedy was avoided, and the invaders were dealt with by our adopted brother." He turned to face me and continued, "You may be small and not of this world, but no one here can deny you have the heart of an orc and the prowess or a warrior. Welcome Little Brother to the Deep Valley tribe."
The proclamation was met with a roar and a cheer from everyone in the room. Once that quieted down again Na'Guk continued, his anger continually building until spittle flew with every word, "We cannot let this attack go unanswered! I will see them all dead! Every warrior, every huntress, every pup! The villages will be burned and the earth where they stood cursed to never bring life again! The scourge that is the Green Mountain orc will vanish from the face of Orta'ahn!"
This proclamation is only met with cheers from the War Leader's guard. Everyone gives a half-hearted agreement. Don't want to be the one he suspects isn't behind Na'Guk one hundred percent. I looked over at Valsh who had lowered his head in defeat. He slowly raised his gaze to mine and the look in his eye told me everything I needed to know. He shook his head slowly and lowered his gaze back to the floor.
A large hand clamps down on my shoulder just as I turn my head from Valsh. Na'Guk lowers his face down to mine and says," Little Brother, I have a task for you. Valsh says you were sent by the gods to help us prepare for this battle. It is time for you to fulfill your role."
Brother you have no fucking idea how right you are. Your crazy ass needs to die.
He looks at me from under his thick brow and continues, "I want you and Shala to scout the jungle between here and the nearest Green Mountain village. Find weaknesses in their village defense, maybe even create more, and then come report back to me. I want the first village destroyed within the week." Then he turned and left the Great Hall through a door in the back wall I hadn't noticed before.
After he was gone Shala furrowed her brown and said, "I am afraid our War Leader is confused and innocent orcs will die because of it. Those were not Green Mountain orcs. They were from a coastal tribe we attacked without cause last year. He is the War Leader though, and where he leads we follow."
Valsh walked up about this time and congratulated me on being adopted by the tribe, even if it was under the cloud of the declaration of war form Na'Guk.
At the mention of my 'adoption' Shala perked up. "Oh, that reminds me. Since you don't have any tusks to display your beads, I made you something. I hope it honors you. The tusk is from one of the four you slew protecting me."
In her hand was a leather thong threaded through the base of a tusk. The tusk itself had two rings through it with four beads on one and two on the other. I turned and looked at Valsh who said, "For the ones you killed at my camp." He finished with a nod then turned and left Shala and I alone.
I took the thong and placed it around my neck dropping it inside my shirt. Then I looked Shala in the eye and said, "You honor me. Thank you."
She lowered her head to look me straight in the eye and curled her lip and let a quiet growl escape. I returned it, and we broke into a run for her hut. I fell asleep bruised and bleeding a little, but I was at peace for the first time in a couple of years. I dreamt of the blood and death to come.