Tuesday, December 3, 2019

To Kill a War Leader Pt 9 - Dining with a Madman

I know...I know...it's been a long time. Life has just been crazy, so that's all I'll say about that.  The bathroom remodel is done and a post is coming about that. Also the local high school is in the playoffs and with a kid in the band that eats up quite a bit of my time.  Anyway, here's the next bit in the book as it slowly leaks out of my brain.  Let me know if you see anything that's just terribly out of place.  One thing that is bugging me is that there is a lightness creeping into Tole's character, and I'm not digging it at all.  It actually worries me that my brain is plotting something bad for him, and I'm just not in the loop yet.  We'll find out together I guess.

-Wayne

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.
"Who?"
"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.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Tingling Fingers - The Return

Well, I was looking and other than blog posts I really haven't written anything in just over a month. I didn't realize it'd been that long until I stopped and thought about it.  Life has been coming at me non-stop and now my carpal tunnels has decided it's a great time to come back. JOY!

We're closing in on the launch of our new service at work. Probably about a month or so to go. Right now I'm wrapped up in interviewing prospective supervisors and finalizing the list of services we will offer. 

Finally we're in the process of remodeling a bathroom at home and that is not something I would wish on an enemy. Remodeling is a painful process.

Ok, I'm done with the poor pitiful me bit. I am working on a new chapter in both To Kill a Warleader and The Affairs of Dragons as well as a small rewrite on One of Those Days, which is on deck to be the next short story for Amazon release.

Oh wait! I forgot the truck I'm working on. It should be coming home from my friend's shop in the next few weeks. His place is just over 3 hours away, so I don't get out there as much as I'd like.

Hang tough everyone. I'm not dead yet.

Wayne


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Working on Terra on Amazon

I really don't enjoy doing covers, but they're a necessary evil. I have literally been trying to find a cover for this story since I wrote it almost a year ago. I got my first check from Amazon and it was enough for me to buy a picture I liked for the cover. 

All of the editing has been done for a LONG time, so once the cover was chosen it was good to go. Since I'm finally happy with the cover and  the story, I hit the submit button.

Like the first two, it's Kindle only. Here's the link and a view of the cover.  I'm planning to consolidate all of these into a dead tree version once there's enough of them.

If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy it. If you do drop a review on it on Amazon. Hell, if you don't do the same. I need feedback to improve.  Cover and link below.

-Wayne






Monday, October 28, 2019

To Kill a War Leader Pt 8 - Letting the Killer Out

Sorry this has been a such a slow process. I just looked up and realized it's been almost two weeks since I posted anything. Work has gotten all kinds of crazy as we get ready to launch a completely new service offering, and guess who's been tapped to be on the development and implementation team. Add to that spending the last 4 days in a snot dripping near-coma and well, not much writing has been getting done.

I do have a challenge in front of me. The writer's group is doing an exercise with a deck of cards with writing prompts on them. Lucky me drew a 'writing outside your genre" card and have to do 100-500 words of a romance. This will not end well.

I'm close to pushing out "Working on Terra" to ebook. Hopefully have it done by the end of the week. I hate doing covers.

Oh, I changed a bit of canon from a previous chapter to this one. I changed the beads on the orc tusk rings to one per kill instead of two. It got confusing. Hope you enjoy it.

-Wayne

I must've looked pissed because everyone gave me a wide berth on my way back to the hut. I got there without having to say a word to anyone. I mean I was pissed, so I guess that makes sense. I went straight to the beer keg Valsh kept there and drew myself a big tankard of the stuff.  I drank about half of it in the first pull, refilled it, and went to the cushions to sit and drink the rest. My adrenaline was still up from the fight, and I needed to calm down. 
By the time I had finished a second tankard and found some food, my mood had greatly improved, and the world had taken on this kind of hazy glow. I had also had time to reflect on the trial and realized how lucky I had gotten. If that orc was half the seasoned warrior I took him to be he should have beaten me bloody. The only reason I could think for his stupidity was over-confidence.  He just flat hadn't seen me as a threat. That particular fuck up has cost more than one person their life. Lucky for Gujek I hadn't been paid to kill him, or he'd be laying in a puddle of blood and shit right now.
"Sorry I did not get back here sooner," Valsh said as he opened the door. "I had to stay and make sure Gujek was not going to die from the blow you gave him to the head. The stubborn ass refused healing. He always does. That is why he still has that limp and the crooked jaw. It will be significantly more crooked now I fear. Oh, he sent you this."
The tusk I had knocked out of Gujek's head landed at my feet with the beaded rings still attached.
"He said you had earned it, and he deserved the beating you gave him. That was a magnificent blow. I thought you intended to kill him," Valsh finished as he drew his own tankard of beer.
"Never would've happened," I replied. "I only kill who or what I'm paid to unless it's to save my own hide. I didn't get the feeling he wanted to kill me...just disgrace me and maybe test your skills as a healer. That's why he lost. He didn't take me seriously. No one here will make that mistake again."
Valsh nodded slowly and said, "True enough. We meet with Na'Guk again in the morning. I see you've eaten. If you don't need healing, it's time for my evening prayers."
I told him to go ahead and got up to go to my room. About halfway there I heard someone approach the door to the hut. I opened it before they had a chance to knock and found Shala standing there with a platter covered in meats and fruit which she offered to me.
"You were there?" I asked.
She smiled and said, "Fierce for one so small. I never doubted you, white skin."
"Tole," I corrected. "My name's Tole."
"Tole then. Would you like to come to my hut for the evening meal with me?"
"Lead on, Shala."
I could've sworn I heard Valsh say, "heart of an orc" before he began his chanting.
***
When Shala left to see to her duties for the village the next day, I wasn't nearly as beaten and bruised as I had been the last time. Don't get me wrong; I still hurt. It just didn't feel like I'd gone through an eight-round cage match this time. I've been a fighter all of my life, but sex by combat is definitely something different. I'm still not fully decided on how I feel about it, but I'm willing to keep trying until I can make up my mind.
I was making my way back to Valsh's hut, massaging a sore shoulder, and thinking about smooth green skin stretched over muscle when a horn blast broke my reverie. I looked up to see orc warriors, weapons in hand, running toward the outer walls of the village. I found Valsh about half a minute later coming out of his hut.
"What's going on?" I yelled as we turned and headed towards the main gate.
"The hunting party was attacked by another tribe and are being pursued back to the gate. We go to defend their escape and keep the attacking force from invading our village."
When I got to the wall above the gate I could see a party of about five orc females running down the path from the tree line towards the main gate. One of them had a sixth over her shoulder. The female being carried had several arrows protruding from her back and wasn't moving. I recognized the dagger on the side of the one being carried as the one Shala wore. That realization shifted my focus. Someone is about to die...horribly.
I realized that the pointy things on me were for stealthy killing and not suitable for this kind of fight. I wanted something with a little more heft to it. I quickly looked around for something I could use to invoke death and mayhem. 
The orc to my right was wielding a sword in one hand and a club in the other. He also had a reasonably good dagger on his hip which I pulled from the sheath as I leapt over the wall. As I ran towards the orcs pursuing the huntress group, I started my threat analysis. There were four of them carrying bows, each with a mostly full quiver of arrows at their hips. I could see the pommels of the short swords on their opposite hips as well. They didn't expect to have to go hand-to-hand, or they would be carrying something bigger. They really didn't expect to meet me, or they wouldn't have come at all.
As I passed the orc carrying Shala, I jumped up and pulled the dagger from Shala's waist as well. Once I hit the ground again, I picked up my pace. I wanted to hit them on the first pass at a dead run. They haven't even noticed me yet, or if they have they've dismissed me as a pup and not a threat. Big fucking mistake, and it'll be the last they get to make.
One of them finally realizes I'm actually charging them and fires an arrow in my direction. Adrenaline rushes headlong into my blood, and everything slows down. I can see the tip of the arrow as it comes towards me. I could have counted the number of times that the shaft flexed as it flew. When it reaches me, I feel like I could have reached out and caught it in my bare hand. Instead I flick the tip Shala's dagger at it dismissively and bat it out of my way.
I can see the realization set in as I leap out of the grass at the orc who fired it. I put a dagger through each eye and my feet firmly in his chest. My momentum carries him over backward, and I jump and roll as he hits the ground. I complete my roll coming to my feet and thrusting both daggers hilt-deep into the chest of the orc behind him. I can feel the pulse of his heart through the blades telling me I struck true. I pull them both free as he falls. 
That's two. Who's next?
I hear the roar from behind me that answers my question, so I duck my head and pivot to the left as his sword cuts the air where I was standing. I step inside his arm's reach and drive Shala's dagger into the artery in his thigh and slice outward opening the entire inside of this leg to let the blood out. The arterial spray covers my arm and thoroughly wets the chest of my shirt. He roars in pain and drops to a knee giving me a clear shot at the bottom of his chin. I drive the other dagger up and into his brain and watch as his eyes roll up into his head.
The last of the group yells something about a white skinned jungle demon and heads for the tree line. I am not inclined to let him leave, so I gather a bow from one of the fallen around me. It was almost a short bow to these gorillas, but for me it's bordering on a longbow. Doesn't matter though because I have enough adrenaline rushing around in me to body slam an elephant. I knock an arrow, draw, and find my target. The back of his head snaps into focus and looks about the size of a beachball. I pick a target at the base of his skull where his brainstem should be and let fly. My ears are met with a satisfyingly wet "thok" as the arrow hits home, and he falls limply to the ground.
Putting the two borrowed daggers through my belt, I take one of the short swords and then set about the process of finishing my work severing each of these mother fucker's heads from their bodies. I tie their top knot braids together and fling them over my shoulder and start back to the village. The fog of combat finally starts to clear and my thoughts settle on Shala. By the time I get to the gate, I'm almost at a sprint again.
As I enter the village, I drop the heads on the ground. Valsh is knelt over Shala chanting, and I can see the glow of the healing magic he is weaving. There are four arrows on the ground next to her in a small puddle of her blood. The other huntresses are watching Valsh intently, and finally Shala draws a ragged, wet sounding breath.
Valsh sits back on the ground with a weary look on his face. "She will live," he says. Then he turns and scans the crowd. I'm pretty sure he's looking for me.
"I'm here Valsh," I replied.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, getting up slowly. That's when I realized that other than the huntresses, everyone else was staring at me. Most of them had their mouths open. Some were whispering something about gods touched. That is also when I realized I was covered almost head-to-toe in blood.
"Relax Valsh. None of it is mine," I assured him.
He looked over my shoulder at the heads on the ground and asked, "What did you do? I saw you go over the wall, but I was called to heal Shala. Tole...what did you do?"
"I handled it," I said.
A weak voice said, "Tole. Come here you fool."
I turned and went to Shala's side. I found a relatively clean spot on my pants leg to clean her blade. I held it out to her and said, "It served me well."
She took the dagger, slipped it into the sheath, and pulled my forehead to hers and said, "Thank you." Then she lay back again and fell asleep while the others carried her back to her hut. I watched them until they rounded the corner, and then I turned to go back to Valsh's hut. I was met by the prodigious ass of Na'Guk, but I managed to stop before I ran into it. He was barking orders to his warriors about gathering the corpses and burning them outside of the village as a warning to any who would dare try this again.
Once he was done he turned to me and held out his hand. In it was a golden ring and four gold beads with holes through the center. One for each orc I had killed. I took them and bowed slightly at him.
"The heads are yours. What would have us do with them?" he asked.
"Whatever your tradition demands. I don’t have any use for them," I replied.
He ordered them hung from the walls. I was ok with that decision. We exchanged another nod, and I left to make my way back to Valsh’s hut. I needed food and a drink and possibly some sleep.  Any time I let the killer out like that it burns a lot of calories. I usually end up drunk and sleeping for a couple of days as well.  After two days in a row of fighting like that plus the night I had spent with Shala, I was completely fucking exhausted.
Once I got back to the hut, I started to shake. Adrenaline is a bitch and the crash afterwards can be extreme. Couple that with the emotions I had felt and I was tired to my soul. I barely managed to drink two tankards and eat two plates of meat, cheese, and fruit before I passed out on the cushions in the “living room” of Valsh’s place. Valsh came in some time later and woke me up.
“I have just come from checking on Shala one last time,” he said. “She is going to be fine. She was the last to run, making sure that the others were safely away. The cowards shot her in the back as she fled. The party leader went back for her against Shala’s wishes. I told her what you did. She wanted me to tell you that she wants to see you as soon as she is well.”
The haze was starting to clear, so I went to get more beer. Once my mug was full I said, “I’m glad she is going to be ok, but I don’t think I can see her again. My emotions got away from me today, and in my business that is a fast way to get killed. I need to get this fucking job done and go.”
“That is your decision to make and will be your responsibility to tell her. Just let me know when you plan to do it so I can be elsewhere. Oh, Na’Guk wants to see us in his hut for tonight's meal. You made quite an impression on him today. In the meantime, get some rest. You have earned it.”
I took my drink and headed to my room. I hate when shit gets complicated.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Pickup Progress

So I spent last weekend out at my friend's house and shop.  When we moved my truck, it would just flat fall on its face and die. I knew it was electrical, and I had a damned good idea what it was.


This little jewel is the ignition switch, and it has contacts sandwiched between the metal and plastic layers. Eventually those layers separate; those contacts quit working; and random stall outs happen. It's mounted way down on the steering column up under the dash. I'm too old and fat to be flipping over upside down and working under a dash, so this happened.


Part of the process also involved replacing my original exhaust manifolds because one of them was cracked...badly. I'm too broke to buy good headers, so I decided to use the ones that came from the salvage yard with the engine. That presented me with a problem in that those manifolds have a lot more emissions provisions on them that the ones from 1984. No big deal. Three 3/4" pipe plugs fixed that right up.


Now some people ask me why I am willing to drive just over three hours to go do work on an old piece of shit truck that I could just as well do at home.  Well, first and foremost, my friend who's shop I am working in and I have known each other since high school. I truly enjoy spending the time out there with him and his beautiful wife. They live in the country, and it is extremely relaxing to go out there for a few days.

Second, he has an amazing accumulation of tools and equipment. For example, we ended up having to do some minor alterations to those manifolds due to warping. (Minor as in using his drill press and a 3/4" bit to drill out 7 of the 8 bolt holes to get all of the bolts started. Yes, they still sealed up with no leaks.)  Remember earlier I mentioned being old and fat? Well, the two post lift is also very nice for that particular situation.

Lastly, I also got to spend some time helping out on these:






It's a rough job, but somebody has to do it. Oh, and in case I haven't shared it before, this one belongs to my friend who's shop I was in.



-Wayne

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

To Kill a War Leader Pt 7 - Ready? Fight!

The last couple of weeks were really productive. I've got a few chapters written and in the editing process. If I can keep this going I'm hoping to have this book ready this spring. Here's hoping.

In other news, I've just about got my old truck back on the road. Just need to finish the exhaust and go through the brakes. Looking forward to driving it again.

Any way. Hope you enjoy this next chpater.

-Wayne

Light coming through the window woke me...that combined with a mighty urge to take a piss.  It took me a couple of seconds to disentangle myself from Shala. I'd be willing to bet one of her legs weighs over half what my entire body weighs, but oh lord what a leg. I give serious thought to waking her up, but then I realize I have other commitments today. Dammit, sometimes, life just ain't fair. 
I open the door to the hut and the sight that greets me was something a person would have to see first-hand to fully appreciate. There were naked, sleeping orcs EVERYWHERE. The cook fire was still smoldering and there was still some meat left on the carcass hanging over it. After I finished draining my bladder, I carved off another big chunk and took it back to Shala's hut. She was awake and dressed when I got there. I tore the meat in half and offered her a portion. She took it with a smile and gently stroked the side of my head.
"You are definitely not what I expected, white skin," she said with the softest tone I'd heard from her. "You are fierce for one so small, and I think you will do well today. Try not to let my kinsman kill you. I would like to see you again when I return from my duties for the day." Then she bent forward, nuzzled the side of my head, and left the hut.
"Dying is never part of my plan," I replied to the empty room. Time to find Valsh.
I find my man Valsh right where I left him the night before only now he's naked with a woman under each arm. They're both lying with their heads on his chest, and all three of them are sleeping peacefully. Almost seems a shame to wake him up. As I get closer I notice that there's a little trickle of dried blood running out of his left nostril and the eye on that side is a little swollen and surrounded by a darker green ring that is likely a hell of a shiner. Oh, he's grinning like an idiot in his sleep too. I can respect that.
"Wake up, you old dog," I say kicking the bottom of his foot. No way I'm getting within arms reach of a sleeping orc.
He kind of snorts, opens the eye that isn't almost swollen shut, and smiles at me. Then he gently rolls each woman off of his chest and sits up. He kind of swoons a little and almost falls back over.  I'm guessing hangover mixed with a slight concussion. I can't help but laugh a little which earns me a glare and then a chuckle from Valsh.
"Old is right. I think I may be aging beyond this sort of thing, but gods it is good," he said as he got to his feet and gathered his clothes. "We should head to my hut and I will heal anything serious. It is good to keep some pain. Reminds us we are alive. Have you eaten?"
"Yeah, Shala and I ate before she left this morning. Water would be good though. I am more than a little dehydrated."
"I would be disappointed if you were not," he said with a laugh walking towards the cook fire. He carved himself off a chunk of meat, grabbed some fruit, and came back my way. "There is water in my hut. Shall we go get you ready for your trial. There are things that must be done. This is ritual as much as anything else. The traditions must be followed."
Once we were in his hut, Valsh sat me in the center of the main room and wove some healing magic around me to close up anything that had been bleeding. I was surprised at just how many bite wounds there were. I honestly hadn't noticed them happen. He left the bruising caused by the bite and just closed the wound. He also found a couple of light fractures in my left arm and right thigh. Guess it was a rougher night than I thought.
While he worked, Valsh described what would happen the rest of the day. I would be taken to a hut to be prepared for the trial. Elder females would bathe me, paint my body with symbols significant to the trial, and dress me in the ritual outfit for the fight. Fucker laughed when he said that because they were going to have to make one because of my size. Sometimes being small is a pain in the ass.
The healing took a lot out of both of us, so we ate more and drank about a half-gallon of some fruit juice that was supposed to replenish the body.  I have to be honest I did feel considerably better about twenty minutes after I drank it.  I'm not one hundred percent sure there wasn't some mild narcotic effect from the drink though.  I felt invincible, but Valsh kept reminding me that even a newly blooded warrior was going to be considerably bigger than me.  I kept reminding him that almost everything I had ever faced in a fight was considerably bigger than me going all the way back to John Morton back in high school. This was nothing new.
About mid-afternoon there was a knock at the door of the hut. Outside was a cadre of ancient orc women who announced they were here to see to the white skin. Valsh obviously respected these women because he bowed as they entered. He introduced them each in turn citing their places on the women's elder council. It seems that the War Leader had two teams of advisors. The male elders dealt with war, which meant he ignored them entirely, but the female elders counseled him in the running of the village. They planned all of the hunts, farming, and education of the pups. These were important ladies. I decided it was in my best interest to be nice, so I bowed to each in turn.
They led me from Valsh's hut to a small building beside a ring of stone that encircled a sand pit. That must be the ring. There was another building just like it directly opposite the one I was led to. Smoke rose through a clay chimney in the roof of each. On the other two points of the compass on the ring stood two weapons racks. There was nothing with an edge or a point, so they're training weapons.  Doesn't mean they won't hurt like hell. Each rack held a club that would be a real chore for me to wield, a mace, and what looked like Escrima sticks except they were about two inches thick. Good to know I wouldn't have to stand out in the center and try to trade licks with one of these granite skulled mother fuckers.
From the other hut I could hear female voices singing songs of glorious death in battle and all that warrior bullshit. I, for one, agree with George S. Patton when he said, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” Only in this situation it would be something like...the point of war isn't to die in battle. It's to make the other poor fucker die so you can enjoy the victory. 
The one thing I hated about all of this was not knowing who I was fighting. My training is screaming for me to recon the shit out of this situation and then spend time planning the fastest way to end it. It's causing me more than a little anxiety. I tried talking to my escorts as we were walking from Valsh's place, but they wouldn't say word one. I need to find a way to accept that this one is out of my comfort zone, so I can calm the fuck down. 
The bath was done with me standing buck naked in a tub of warm water. The old women sang the same songs I had heard on the way in while they worked. After I was dried, I was put into a leather cod piece and loin cloth. They moved me to the center of the hut to stand near a small fire pit. The oldest, or at least the one leading this ceremony, put some plants into the fire that made a sweet-smelling smoke. The smoke didn't fill the room, just the aroma. While it burned, two of the women began to paint orcish runes on my back and chest and one painted gold and red stripes on my face. Valsh had told me they were symbolic and supposed to hide the combatants from death. 
Whatever. If you're supposed to die, paint ain't gonna fucking prevent it.
When they were satisfied with their work, one of them opened the door to the hut, and I was led to a place on the stone ring and instructed to sit and contemplate what was to come. I was not to move until the Battle Master said to do so. The trial would be just after sundown, so I had a couple of hours to sit there. I was gonna be so damned stiff by the time this shit kicked off.
Shortly after I settled in to wait, the door of the other hut opened and a similar group of women led a mountain of an orc to a seat opposite me. I could tell pretty much right away that this was no freshly blooded warrior. This dude had some years under his belt. I could see the scars on his chest from the twenty feet or so away that I sat. I could also see that he had rings in both tusks. 
What the actual fuck is this bullshit? I thought this was supposed to be a formality with me fighting some wet behind the ears, young warrior. Where the fuck is Valsh? Fuck it. I can handle his ass.
I start to look him over to see if I can gather any information I can use once the fun starts. Scout training and years of being a sneaky bastard make it almost reflex. Start with the scars. He's been stabbed several times. There's a difference between a scar from a cut and a scar from a stab or other puncture wound. They tend to pucker. This poor bastard has played arrow and/or spear catcher on more than one occasion. Mark those as potential strike points...especially the one near the socket of his right shoulder. I bet that one gives him shit right before a rain.
His jawline isn't straight.  Likely he's had it broken a couple of times along with the tusk on the side that is inset slightly. Cracked granite is still granite, but it tends to break more easily along those fault lines.  Strike point number two located and marked.
As I file that away a memory jumps into my head. He was limping slightly. Not like he was currently hurt. More like Jerry back on Terra did back form that old football injury.  Just give to it a little so you don't step wrong and fuck it up again.  That's strike point number three, but only if I have to. I don't need an enemy here, and crippling a warrior might just cause some ill will to develop.
Size-wise he's probably a good foot taller than me and probably weighs twice what I do. Grappling would not be fun unless I get lucky and get him where he can't get me and then somehow force him to yield. Let's not make that the primary plan, but I could probably handle it as long as he doesn't get a hand on me. Something tells me he'd snap me like a dry twig and then apologize for getting carried away.
While I had been doing all my plotting and planning, the village had gathered around the ring. Some torches had been lit. I hadn't even noticed it getting dark. Hyper focus is a bitch sometimes. I hear Valsh before I see him. He's protesting the War Leader's choice of opponent saying that it is an unfair match to put me against a seasoned orc warrior like...Gujek I think he said was his name.
"If your little friend was truly sent by the gods, then he must face a challenge worthy of him. The choice stands," Na'Guk proclaimed then he laughed and called for food and drink as his dais.
So, the old fucker is stacking the deck.  Ok, this just went from proving myself to saving myself. That brings a whole new protocol up for the actions I am going to take. I don't need to kill him, but I do need to make this fast, decisive, and most of all brutal. If the War Leader want to test me, he picked a bad day to do it.
Valsh stepped into the ring and walked to where Gujek was seated. They exchanged a few words and Gujek shook his head in the negative. Valsh nodded and walked to me.
Once he was in front of me he said, "My role in this is to ask you if you wish to withdraw. If you answer no, I will move to the center of the ring and call you both forward to begin the combat. You may use any of the weapons on the racks to either side, but you must gain them after the fight begins. Tole, I would suggest you withdraw. There will be no dishonor if you do. You can alter your plan and still carry out the assassination."
I think of my night with Shala and think I would like to be able to return to this village someday. These people, their lives, and their world speak to me on a very basic level. If I withdraw, that cannot happen. Besides, I don't like being fucked with.
"I fight," I said with enough heat in my voice that there could be no misunderstanding my commitment.
Valsh stands up straight and looks me in the eye. Then he grins and says, "So be it. Fight well my friend."
He turns and walks to the center of the circle and raises his hands into the air. Everything falls silent. He motions to Gujek and me, so we both rise and walk to the center of the ring. Now that we're this close I notice some discolored areas around Gujek's ribcage and his left eye.  He must've had a good time last night too.
Valsh conjures a small flame in his hand and lets it float in the air between Gujek and I. He says, "When this flame winks out, let the trial by combat begin. Remember this is ritual combat, so try not to kill one another. May the gods grant victory to the worthy." When he finished, he walked out of the circle to stand next to Na'Guk.
Right Tole. Knee...ribs...shoulder...jaw. Those are your targets...Get this shit done.
Just as I finish the thought the flame winks out, and Gujek takes a step forward on his weak leg. Thank you. I drop backwards into a Capoeira stance ducking his lead punch and immediately lash out landing the kick on that bad knee. It gives with a satisfying crack, and he roars in pain and anger. 
Knee.
I follow it with a dagger hand strike into the scar on his rib cage and feel my fingers slip between two ribs, so I grab the upper one and pull hard feeling it crack and drawing another roar from my opponent.
Ribs.
He takes a haymaker swing at me which I duck under as it comes. Sometimes being small pays off. The punch combined with the broken knee cause him to over extend, and I end up to the side and slightly behind him. I jump up onto his back and my left arm snakes around his throat, his Adam's apple in the crook of my elbow, and I grasp my right bicep with my left hand.
Choke instead of shoulder? What the hell? Why not?
Startled, the asshole does exactly what everyone else does when this happens, and tries to smack me in the nose with the back of his head. Unfortunately, my right hand is on the back of his head, and his head-butt becomes a pitiful shove.
Automatically, I pull my shoulders back. It's now a countdown. Seven ... six ... I feel his weight start to shift, and I slam my feet into the back of his knees, collapsing the joints and throwing him off balance. He instinctively wastes time trying to stay upright ... four ... three ... He paws fitfully at my arm, buried deep under his chin ... two ... one.
He's out.
I'm not stupid, so I hold the choke for another five seconds, before dropping him like a sack of dead trout in the dirt followed by a roar from the crowd.
I start my walk over to where Na'Guk and Valsh stand to claim my victory when I notice the crowd is silent again. That's when I hear the cough behind me, so I turn to see Gujek on his hands and knees. 
Seriously?!?! Fuck my life!
I walk over to a weapon rack and grab a mace and start back into the ring. About five steps from Gujek I start a loping run and my backswing. I land solidly on both feet right in front of him as my swing comes forward. 
Jaw.
The crack left no room for confusion that I broke his goddamed jaw. He went down hard, and I walked over the edge of the ring where his broken tusk lay where it had landed in the sand. I picked it up and dropped the mace. Dusting the sand off of the tusk, I turned and walked back to the dais where Na'Guk sat with his mouth hanging open. Valsh was behind him with his arms folded across his chest and grinning like an idiot.
I dropped the tusk on the table and walked out of the ring and toward Valsh's hut without a word to anyone. 
I need a drink.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

To Kill a War Leader Pt 6 - Proving My Mettle

With all that's been going on with my health I haven't been doing a ton of writing. I have done some, just not a lot.  I was looking at the blog posts and realized it's been almost two months since I put up anything story related. That cannot stand.

There are a couple of pieces of news to share:

First, I've decided to focus on one book until it's done at least as much as I can. I've decided To Kill a War Leader will be the first one I finish as it happens first in the chronology. So there's that. There will still be short stories along the way because my muse is totally eaten up with ADHD.

Second, thanks to everyone who's picked up the stuff I've put on Amazon. I really appreciate that you'd cough up actual money for my drivel.

I've changed the way I'm formatting my stuff as I write so I don't have to go back and redo it all for publishing.  It's almost like I'm trying to be a writer or something.

Well, that's enough blather out of me.  Hope you enjoy it.

-Wayne


Proving My Mettle

The next morning found me in the village's Great Hall in front of Na'Guk, War Leader of the Deep Valley Tribe. I just thought Valsh was big. If I had to guess, I'd say Na'Guk was close to eight feet tall and probably weighed around four hundred and fifty pounds. His skin was slightly darker green than Valsh, and he had a slight gut, probably from age more than anything else. Don't misunderstand, he had muscles on his muscles. I would not want to find myself facing this fella in matched combat. He'd belch and kill me. Lucky for me I had no intention of fighting fair.
When Valsh told the story of my arrival on Orta'ahn, he conveniently left out the part where he came to The Bar to get me. His story started with the ambush in the jungle. He told them that he was caught off guard and couldn't use his magic, so he prayed to the god of the jungle for help. Then he told them how I seemed to just appear from the foliage and help even the odds. He told the gathered audience that I single-handedly bested two Desert Reaches warriors in hand-to-hand combat never mentioning that I poisoned one of them. He didn't say I fought fair. He didn't say I didn't either, the crafty bastard.
Na'Guk stopped Valsh with a raised hand at this point and Valsh lowered his eyes to the floor. My eyes were already there just like Valsh had told me to do.  NO eye contact unless spoken too and then only briefly. Lowering your eyes in deference is expected. I'm not used to deferring, so I'm hoping I can pull this off.
"Why would the gods send you such a small creature? I doubt he could best a pup much less a warrior...even a Desert Reaches warrior," he scoffed.
My first reaction was to stick something pointy in his arrogant ass, but Valsh had prepared me for this. I have to prove myself to the War Leader. Valsh extended an arm in my direction indicating I should approach, so I stepped around him and held out my hand. In it was the tusk rings I had taken as trophies, little gold beads and all. A whisper spread through the room.
"You claimed these from the slain?" Na'Guk asked.
I raised my head and looked him in the eye saying one of the few orcish phrases I had managed to learn, "I did." Then, as Valsh had instructed, I lowered my eyes to about his chest level and waited for the War Leader to acknowledge my victories.
"Impressive...IF those are yours by right...which I doubt," he said and then spat on the ground at my feet.
Valsh rose with a roar, "You doubt my word? I have served this tribe since before you were born! You insult my honor!"
"I have no doubt you saw what the gods wanted you to see and you believe it all to be true,” Na'Guk replied with an edge of danger in his tone. "I just doubt it happened the way you saw it. If this being wants to claim honor for those kills and in the eyes of this tribe, he will have to prove his skill just as any new warrior...in combat. Let us have a test in the training ring!"
An approving roar went up from everyone gathered in the Great Hall. This wasn't totally unexpected. It just wasn't the optimum outcome. It means I'll have to face a warrior of Na'Guk's choosing to prove my worthiness. It's not a fight to the death, but someone (likely me) is going to be bleeding before it's all said and done. Why can't things ever be easy?
I walked back to Valsh and gave him a look like I was considering just stabbing him and going home. As we left the Great Hall he took me aside and said, "Tole, we knew this was a possibility. Do not worry, very rarely does anyone die in these rites, and I can heal whatever injuries result. Just try not to kill whoever it is Na'Guk chooses for you to face."
"No fucking promises." I really wasn't in the mood for this shit. My response might have come out a little hotter than I intended; because, Valsh missed a step when I answered him. I stalked the rest of the way to the room where he had me staying in his hut and pulled the drape across the opening behind me.
Valsh gave me about twenty minutes or so to calm down, and I used all of it.  I was still a little irked when he finally knocked on the door frame, so I took my sweet time getting around to answering him. If I'm being totally honest, I was looking at my new tattoo work wondering if the job was worth the trouble and giving serious thought to just opening a portal home. That deep bass voice snapped me out of my contemplation.
"Tole," Valsh said his voice carrying a slightly frantic note. "We must prepare for tomorrow. There are things you need to know. This is not something to be dealt with blithely. The entire plan now hinges on you winning this contest."
I took one last look at the tattoos and left that thought behind.  I took the job. I'll do the job. That's how it's done. Fuck it. Nothing to it but to do it. How hard can it be? I walked over and opened the door to find Valsh sitting cross-legged in the floor in front of his altar.
"What do I need to do?"
Valsh rose from his seat and motioned to the stacks of pillows he used for chairs. I went and sat down while he drew us a couple of flagons of orcish beer. I only call it beer because that's a close as I can come to anything to compare it to.  It's sweet, foamy, and packs a hell of a kick. I never have learned the drunken master techniques, so if I've got to fight tomorrow, I'd better take it easy on this stuff. 
"Normally," he began, "when this situation arises the warriors will spend several nights before the combat in meditation, so they will be as focused as possible. They will only leave their meditations to eat and train. This situation is different in so many ways, and maybe it is the gods smiling on you that has made it so. This is the third night of the celebration of the Warrior's Moon. Every orc who can fight has been drinking and carousing for two days and will likely carry on through the night tonight. That may work in your favor."
"Hungover idiots are always more fun," I agreed.
"Therein lies the problem," he continued. "Since you are going to be taking part in one tribal function, you will be expected to take part in ALL tribal functions."
"Fuck me running! I have to go party like an orc and then fight tomorrow?"
"Exactly. Shall we?" he asked and rose from his seat motioning to the door of his hut.
Great, this is just fucking great.
We had no sooner stepped outside than a very large, very muscular orc female shoved drinks and food in our hands. She was wearing a skin cut into what was basically a long tank top that was open to her navel. It barely covered the tips of her breasts and was barely past the place where her legs met. The length wouldn't even qualify as a mini-skirt back on Terra. It was tied with a leather belt with a very impressive dagger attached at her waist. She looked at me like I was the next thing she was planning to eat. Her tongue shot out of her mouth and licked her tusk. It was frightening and exciting all at once.
"Hey Valsh," I asked. "What does it mean when a female licks her tusk like that? Doesn't mean she's trying to decide if I'd taste good does it?"
Valsh laughed and clapped me on the back. "Not exactly. She is curious how you would fare if you were to mate with her. I would not recommend it.  Shala can be...enthusiastic and you need to be fully functional in the morning. Oh hell, I could heal you if you are interested in her. Just know that orc women have to be conquered. They will fight you even if they want you. It will not be easy, but it is definitely worth it." He said that last bit with this tone to his voice that sounded like he'd like to knock her down himself.
I'll be honest. It had been a long time since I'd been with anyone. My wife had been gone almost two years. She would have been the first to acknowledge that there are drives that must not be ignored. She was a very earthy woman in that respect. We are, after all, just animals that learned to think. Sometimes we overthink, and in spite of the tusks, this woman was something to behold.  
Fuck it. Nothing to it but to do it.
"What do I do?"
Apparently, I caught him in the middle of a pull on his drink because the spit-take was epic.
"What?" he asked turning his head to look at me. "Oh. You are serious. Idiot. Well, take her some meat from the beast on the fire, make solid eye contact, and snarl a little. A soft grunt might also be appropriate. If she returns the grunt, nod slightly and let her lead you to wherever she wants to go. Orc men are warriors, but we do defer to our women on occasion. Sex is their domain and they rule it with an iron fist."
"What if we've misread her intentions?"
"HAH! You'll know...and quickly too."
I was still kind of on the fence about the whole thing, but my hormones had already made up their mind. I was halfway to the cook fire before I even realized I'd started to move. Once I got there I grabbed a carving knife from a table near the fire and separated a large chunk of a forequarter in one neat cut. I put the knife back and stalked to where Shala was seated.
She turned to look at me as I approached with a look of satisfaction on her face. (I found out later she won a bet with some friends that she could attract the small, white skinned visitor.) I behaved just as Valsh had instructed and was truly surprised when she responded affirmatively. She took the meat, took a bite, and then fed some to me. When it was gone, she got up and led to me a hut just outside of the light of the fires.
Orc females aren't as tall as the males, but she was still a solid six to eight inches taller than me. That put my face just slightly higher than her chest.  No complaints here. Once we were alone she untied the belt from around her waist and let her clothing fall to the floor. I was pleasantly surprised to find that other than being green and completely hairless, all of her parts were in the same places they'd have been on a human woman. Only difference was that once she dropped her clothes, she broke into a fighter's crouch. Conquered...right.
She stood up a little and said, "Well? What are you waiting for? Lose the garments and let's see what you're made of white skin."
Oh, this should be interesting. I stripped down and took a fighter's stance at about the same time she got back into hers and we began to circle the room. After about the second time around she came at me. The sight of this naked, muscular woman charging me caused me to hesitate, and it cost me. She caught me with her hands under my arms, lifted me up, and pinned me to the wall. I was well and thoroughly pinned. I should have asked Valsh how rough I was supposed to be. I could get out of this, but it might hurt her.
"That is truly disappointing," she said. "I had hoped you would put up more of a fight. If that is the best you can do, you will not last long tomorrow."
"I'm new at this. Don't want to hurt you," I replied.
"I do not think you can little man, but you are welcome to try."
I kicked my legs up between and then over her arms breaking her grip. Once I felt it loosen, I rocked up and forward onto her arms and hit the brachial plexus on both sides of her neck. I rode her to the ground and rolled forward over her head. I whirled around to face her taking my fighter's stance again.
She rolled over onto her hands and knees shaking her head to clear the stun I'd given her saying, "Better." Then she charged again.
An hour or so later we were both exhausted, and I don't think there was a piece of furniture intact. We both fell asleep on her floor. Enthusiastic he said.  Worth it he said. Man, was he right. I hurt all over, but I hadn't felt this alive in over a year.
I got up to leave and Shala pulled me back down. "If you have the energy to stand, you have the energy to do that thing with your tongue again." 
Apparently tusks eliminate the possibility of oral sex, so she'd never experienced it before.  There was a slight anatomical difference for her, but once I figured out where to lick, she was thoroughly "conquered." The party was still going on outside. No reason to end the one in here, but goddammit I was going to be sore. Valsh was going to have some heavy healing to do before I go fight later in the day.
I finally emerged from the hut about an hour and a half after. When I stepped outside I was greeted with a cheer from everyone still conscious at the party. Shala followed me a few minutes later. When the crowd noticed she was walking with a slight limp and her legs were a little unsteady, another louder cheer went up.  I looked over to see Valsh sitting where I had left him with a huge shit-eating grin on his face.
"What?" I asked him when I got to where he was sitting.
"Nothing," he said with a chuckle. "Nothing at all. Are you injured?"
"Just sore man. Nothing that a tub of hot water and a couple of hours of sleep won't fix."
"Looking at Shala, I do not think sleep is in your future. Once she has eaten, I believe the rest of your night is spoken for."
"What?!?" I asked turning to look back only to find Shala headed our way with food and drink in her hand. Once she got there, she grabbed me with the other and walked me back to her hut. Valsh just sat there laughing. I'll admit, I didn't fight her.

To Kill a War Leader Pt 9 - Dining with a Madman

I know...I know...it's been a long time. Life has just been crazy, so that's all I'll say about that.  The bathroom remodel is d...