Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Writing Exercises: Fall of Frontherealm

This is the other story I submitted to Black gate magazine. I'm several pages into the new story. Hopefully they'll accept that one. In the mean time here is The Fall of Frontherealm copyright 2004 by Josh Rosenbaum

Fall of Frontherealm

King Fronthir sat on his throne five steps above the rest of the council. The high back of the chair easily ten feet above the tallest elf’s head. At only 400 he was the youngest king of Fronthirealm in seven thousand years. The King’s dais formed the bottom of a triangle with 10 council members on each side. Shouts and yells drowned any individual trying to regain control of the meeting.

“What you say is ludicrous and flies in the face of three thousand years of tradition and established fact, Especially since the Orcs themselves bowed to us at the Great Understanding. If the Orcs could govern themselves they would not submit to us! They would have left centuries ago to form their own cities. But we all know they have not the wit nor the facility to think for themselves let alone survive without us. They constantly squabble amongst themselves for table scraps! His majesty would have us set loose our horses and have hunting dogs sitting beside us at these proceedings! What would your grandfather have said to this madness?” And with a sneer Polan sat down, his comrades cheering loudly.

“What about Rozanx?” Came a shout from the King’s right. “He can reason to a stalemate the brightest and most gifted among us!” Davren rose. He was the king’s minister of philosophical thought. He flushed slightly when all eyes turned to him and the room suddenly silenced.

“That is not saying much if you are involved in the debate Davren.” Snorted the older bishop, Tathal, standing up. “I knew a horse that could add numbers faster that a guildsman. Any creature can learn a trick or two. It does not mean they are able to govern themselves or to resolve their petty differences without ripping each other’s arms off or even to build cities with more forethought than the shantytown in the hills. Remember when that charlatan gnome came through with his chess machine? There was merely another gnome inside working the levers to move the pieces. Orcs can be manipulated as easily as that machine! Name me one great Orc artisan who can build a statue out of something other than mud? One Orc Poet who knows something other than a crude limerick? An Orc Scientist? An Orc Statesman? To spout back platitudes like parrots does not indicate a reasoning mind!” Another round of cheers resounded from the king’s left. King Fronthir tried to hide his unease behind clasped hands. Davren was too flustered to speak. Tathal continued:
“You there. Server. Come here.” He said to an Orc who was avoiding eye contact and holding a pitcher. The Orc looked up to Tathal’s chin then quickly behind him to make sure he was indeed the unfortunate one being addressed.
“What is your name?”
“Gahnnnrk?” it mumbled. The Orc looked puzzled. The crowd knew it could barely understand the question.
“What… is… your… name good Orc?” Tathal said, much more slowly. Adopting the tone he would take with his favorite nephew. The King tried not to cringe at the condescension.
Tathal grinned and looked around feeling empowered by those sitting near him. In the same tone he continued speaking server, moving closer.
“Tell me, good orc Gahnnnrk” he exaggerated, knowing full well Gahnnnrk was not a proper Orc name. “What poems have you composed recently? There once was a dwarf named..? Can you speak even?” Tathal’s head ducked and weaved as he walked, arms outstretched in mock obsequiousness. Tathal’s Voice rising like he was talking to a slow child. Tathal’s group grinned.
“Have you created anything besides a full pitcher of water recently? Anything? Created the Daudna out of your own feces perhaps?” The last question ended in a rasp of sarcasm.
“That is enough!” King Fronthir said. Looking very tired, he sighed. “Go!” he commanded the Orc. The Orc’s eyes immediately returned to the ground. He began to shuffle to the door, past the guards. He paused at the door and turned slowly.
“My… name… is… Sondek.” He said. The words coming haltingly as he tried to make his mouth create the high lilting elfin sounds. He turned back to the door and continued to leave. Davren looked disappointed. He truly had been hoping the Orc would say more.
Jarn stood up next to Tathal and said “See this foolishness. The creature barely even knows its own name, and you propose to make them equals. They are beasts of burden who will usually come when you call them and frequently soil themselves before they leave.”
“Enough” King Fronthir said again. You have made your points. All of you leave now.” The council members became quiet, stood and bowed their exits.
“Ollaan, stay.” The Sergeant-at-arms stayed behind.
“Do you have news for me Ollaan?”
“None good sire. The Orcs are restless and they are becoming more tight lipped to my spies.”
“As of last census two days ago there are four Orcs for every Elf in Fronthirealm.”
“But last year there were only two Orcs to… Were there that many births this winter?”
“No sire. As of yet my sources cannot say where they are coming from.”
“The tunnels? They are still sealed?”
“Yes, as of yesterday noon they were.”
“Very good.” The king sat back on his throne. Looking at the candelabra hanging from the ceiling. The narrow arrow slits around the throne room did little to cast aside the gloom even tho the setting sun shown clearly through several slits. He looked at the old Sergeant for a moment before he spoke.
“Ollaan, you think this is foolish don’t you?”
“It is not my place to doubt you sire.”
Fronthir suddenly looked angry.
“I am asking for an opinion Ollaan. My father may have wanted you to be agreeable but I need you to be honest with me most of anyone in this court.”
“Sire, it is your will. I served as Captain for your father and your father’s father. I serve the will of the people and that will is you. Lead me my King, and I will follow. It is not my place to subject my own will to yours.”
Fronthir sighed heavily again. He and Ollaan had had these discussions before.
Ollaan looked at the King and continued: “I will say your approach is novel sire. While your father may have had the idea of granting rights to the Orcs, organizing them, your father was far away from making them full citizens.”
“We have never lived in as dangerous times Ollaan. The Orcs are restless. More reports come to me every day of an Orc ‘Society’ forming in the shantytowns. I fear for my men because they are becoming so outnumbered. Never has Fronthirealm faced this. And now I look to you, eldest of all council members, to help me make a decision.”

Four figures rode horseback in the fading sunlight. Long beams filtered through the tall pines dappling the riders in gold as they moved by. The riders were on a stamped road near a gurgling creek. Princess Sitre of Fronthirealm rode next to her brother. They were talking quietly, discussing the fine points of the hunt. They rode low in the saddles. It had been two long days on the hunt, but tomorrow there would be a feast. Sitre never felt more alive than when she was hunting, or at least in the forests surrounding the Kingdom. She loved the forest’s mystery but also felt at home. More at home in the saddle amidst the pines than she did in the close dark walls of the castle.

Her brother was competent in the forest, could find his way home, but had always been much more at ease reading books or shadowing their father. He reveled in a good debate in the court while he sat quietly in the back of the throne room.

Sitre looked back at the Orc guards behind her. They were closer than they had been a few moments ago. Even with their horses loaded down with game the Orcs closed ground.
Sitre could smell the shantytown before they left the clearing. Strong smells of pine trees smoke, intermingled with open sewage, cooking spices, and body odor of thousands of individuals. Sitre’s brother Imhran’s eyes were watering.
“Oh good lord, I forgot this road passes through here” He said grimacing and raising his arm over his nose and mouth.”
Sitre concentrated on picking out the lingering pine sent from the milieu of other smells. She was fighting an uneasy feeling as the edge of the forest approached. Her arm slowly moved towards her bow, which hung from the saddle. She wasn’t sure if Kalk had heard something or not but his horse now flanked her on her right. Kalk’s horse strained to keep the large Orc and all the game at an equal pace with the Princess.
“What is it Kalk?” She asked. Kalk merely grunted an answer and kept his small black eyes forward, his pointy little notched ears whipping back and forth as if to shoo a fly or to locate a sound.
With Kalk on Sitre’s right, Imhran was forced behind his sister and beside Krevek. Imhran’s hand was reaching towards his javelin and short sword.
The four exited the forest and saw the castle walls and spires glinting in the distance on the valley floor. The creek next to them fell twenty feet to a waiting pool below with other small waterfalls falling off that pond meandering down to the base of the hill. The cliff wall was eighty feet above the golden green valley floor and the switchback trail was only wide enough for one horse at a time.
Between the cliff and the castle, Sitre could see open fires close by turn to tents, turn to shacks further on, turning to more and more permanent structures the closer to the castle they were. The nice Elf dwellings were closest to the castle walls.
Orcs were everywhere. They came up the switchback but pressed themselves flat against the cliff face as the horses went by. They huddled around fires roasting vermin and insects on skewers. Small Orc children ran up and down the rocks near the pool.
Sitre smiled at each Orc they passed. But every Orc would never make eye contact and look at the ground instead of return the smile. Besides the smell there was a din. Thousands of voices laughing and screaming, thousands of voices talking and shouting surrounded them and reverberated off the valley walls. She knew from what people said that the din would get louder and louder as the night progressed until the Orcs fell asleep sometime just before sunup and their chores and work began. This was the first time in several years Sitre had ventured through the Shantytown. She was surprised by how much it had grown. The rumor was the Orcs multiplied like rabbits.
Every group Sitre and her brother passed would become very quiet. Eyes concentrated on the ground. Hands in plain sight. Even the children would stop running and stand perfectly still until the group had passed.
One group caught Sitre’s eye at the base of the cliff. They stood near one of the sealed tunnels. Permanently sealed after the Great Understanding. There were ten large Orc males. Dressed in tatters. While they didn’t make eye contact with Sitre, neither did they look at the ground. They kept their long greenish brown, dirty arms at their sides. Sitre noticed Kalk staring long and hard at them. She’d seem him doing it before. He was memorizing their features. As they rode past she thought she heard one of them mumbling something.
They continued to ride in their bubble of silence amongst the din along the road that led to the castle gates. Sitre and her brother still had 3/4s of the valley floor when Kalk’s arm was in front of Sitre’s face. The large Orc’s arm almost moved faster than she could follow, but a split second later she heard and saw a large rock ricochet off his forearm and above her head. Had his harm not been there, the rock would have hit her square in the forehead.
Kalk had tied his reigns to Sitre’s saddle and was off his horse running into the crowd before Sitre could say anything. Krevek sandwiched Imhran next to Sitre, eyes wide searching the crowd. He kept Kalk’s horse on Sitre’s other side so only directly in front and behind the group was exposed to a potential attack.
Krevek scanned the crowd, lance at the ready. Eyes-to-ground Orcs were trying to back away, hearing that something was amiss, fearing repercussions.
A few minutes later, Kalk returned, shaking his head.
“Sorry” he grunted to Sitre in Orc.
“That is all right. Thank you for protecting me.” She responded very quietly…

“Your own daughter, an heir to the throne, a Direct descendent of Fronthir the First HIMSELF was attacked, and you still want to make those animals equals.” Tathal said. “If you continue down this path of madness…” Tathal stopped. He swallowed briefly and took a deep breath. “If you continue down this path of madness, the council may need to take action.” Realizing what he had just said, he added a supportive “Sire”.
King Fronthir sat forward on his throne. Up until this point he had thought Tathal was words and bravado, the most vocal against he and his father’s ideas, but just words nonetheless.
“You tread on dangerous ground Tathal. I could have you banished for such talk.”
“And what would you gain sire? I give you a… The… voice of reason in this council. Please pay heed. They are animals pure and simple. Rutting in the mud till dawn, living off of trash and scraps, they don’t even build houses to stay out of the rain without our help and guidance. Like dogs and horses and falcons, they do not want rights. They do not want responsibilities. Otherwise they would have asked for them millennia ago. All you need to do is look at them and see their shantytown!”
“Sometimes, especially during moments like this I almost envy them.” Said Senthya, a councilwoman seated next to Thahal.
The last sentence got questioning looks from Tathal’s side of the room. She continued:
“Living care free, not being bothered by running a kingdom. Not worrying about tariff imbalances with Valsendale, Soldier movements of Etkingshire. No, they are the lucky ones sire. Please see them for what they are and what they’ve shown you they are capable of but more importantly what they are truly not capable of. I implore you to not do anything that weakens the kingdom, which leads us down a dark path. With respect sire.” She finished.
Thahal continued with the King.
“Your own daughter sire. Remember that. They have no care for order. They probably would have ripped her apart and eaten her right there in the street had she not escaped.”
The king looked over at Davren. The younger elf, he could tell, was trying to organize his thoughts, but Thahal’s side of the room represented a unified front.
“I know who is not my staunchest supporter in these matters. Is there any among you who would come to my aid besides Davren?”
An older elf stood slowly.
“Sire, we follow your will. Your orders. You are our king and that we do not question. But please, do not act on your ideas until you feel you know the entire truth.” And with that she sat again.
“Thank you Rallah.” The king almost sneered. “Thank you for your resounding note of support. All of you may leave if that is all you have to say.”
Ollaan stayed behind after the doors were closed. The King hadn’t noticed because his head was bowed. The bridge of his nose was resting on his thumb and forefinger.
“Sire.” Ollaan said gently.
“What is it Ollaan?” the king asked, not looking up.
“Sire, your daughter was attacked. Let me relieve Kalk and replace him with my own men. She needs proper elf protection.”
“I have spoken to Sitre about it. The answer is Kalk will not be relieved.”
“But sire…”
“The two have a rapport. Add your men to guard her if you feel she is in danger but Kalk will not be relieved.”
“Even the best hunting dog needs assistance with the bear my lord.”
“All this talk of dogs, and horses. Ollaan, can you not see that they are thinking creatures?” The king still looked at the floor. Ollaan swallowed and took a deep breath and said very quietly:
“Let me cull the herd sire.”
“What did you just say?”
“Let me cull the herd.” Ollaan said slightly stronger. “They grow too numerous. Even if you do have your way there will not be enough food in the kingdom to feed all of us. Let me just remove the sick, the infirm and the old… Let me make sure the numbers remain in balance.”
“Like cattle? I had thought you a different man Ollaan. I really had. You disappoint me today. Place two extra guards on Sitre and Imhran, but you will not relieve Kalk and Krevek. Am I clear Captain?”
“Yes sire.”
“You will go now.”
And with that, Ollaan left.

Sitre, Kalk and two elfin guards rode towards the shantytown on the way to the forest. Hunting had been poor north of the kingdom the last few months so they rode to the south, through the shantytown, up the cliff and to the fresh air and freedom beyond.
As usual, Sitre attempted to make some connection with the Orcs and have them smile back. As usual she smiled to the tops of heads, uneasy with the bubble of silence around her.
The elfin guards rode through town with their hands on their bows, ready to bring them to bear on any Orc who made eye contact. Kalk rode confidently through the crowd, hands at his sides, reigns loosely held. Sitre tried to appear as calm as Kalk but kept as ready as the other two guards. Three elves had been mugged and beaten in the last week. She knew Ollaan would not approve of their route and have them ride half a day around the outskirts of the valley.
Something caught Sitre’s attention. On a nearby hill a shorter cleaner Orc was still speaking. Even as their party drew within twenty feet the Orc continued his monologue. Other Orcs around him held their eyes down. Sitre saw the small Orc make eye contact with Kalk and his speech seemed to sputter to a halt. Kalk remained impassive and unreadable. Then, for a split second the Orc made eye contact with Sitre. She tried to smile at him but before she could the elfin guards had their bows raised and aimed at the short Orc. She saw the standing crowd around him tense. They all heard the bows being strung.
With Kalk in the lead, Sitre stopped, causing the other two elf guards to stop as well. Quickly Kalk turned in his saddle. He stared at Sitre’s chin and with the slightest motion shook his head. The four continued on their way.

Ollaan charged into the throne room with Tathal in tow.
“Yes captain?” The king answered looking up from several scrolls he was reading.
“One of my scouting parties noticed changes to the sealed tunnels. There was an opening. They went to investigate. They have not reported back.”
“When were they supposed to report back?”
“This morning sire. They did not report for duty and no one remembers seeing them in the dining hall last night.”
The king looked concerned.
“Captain, go with a contingent of men and report back what is at the tunnel. Make sure it is sealed.”
“Very good sire” Ollaan left.
“Sire, please let Ollaan take the armies and cull the Orcs. The levels of violence against elfs have been growing. We need to discipline them. They grow soft and lazy. The Orcs have heard rumors of what you are trying to do. They nip at their master’s heals sire.”
“You may leave now Tathal.”
“As you wish sire.” Tathal said, feeling cut off. “I do hope Ollaan’s men return. However, we need to make an example of the Orcs responsible before things get out of hand. You know the tunnels were sealed for their protection as well as ours. If they somehow think they will have a better life underground… Sire you must take action!”
“Do not make me repeat myself Tathal. You may leave. NOW!”
“Yes sire.”

Sitre emerged from her revelry late in the night. The moon had just set and low clouds blocked the stars. The normally quiet castle was filling with shouts, muffled by the walls. An almost inaudible thud reverberated through the stones, then seconds later another one.
The din outside from the shantytown was a different pitch. More shouting. Individuals could be heard. Quickly Sitre dressed and went to her door. It was blocked from the outside. She ran back to the window. In the darkness and the distance she could see large bonfires burning all across the shantytown. Fires were burning brightly near the cliff, near the sealed tunnels.
She could hear shouting from the hallway, deep grunting shouts of Orcs and the higher barked commands of elves. Sitre grabbed her bow and quiver and ran back to the door and tried it again. It was still blocked. She sprinted to the window and climbed out, fifty feet above the ground. Mobs of Orcs stood at the wall with torches raised. The Elvin army doing their best keeping the advancing throngs at bay. She could see one area where the outer wall had been breached already. Bricks still tumbling down the ragged ‘V’ shape in the wall.
Her brother’s room was next to hers, but the windows were easily ten feet apart. She looked to the likelihood of prying her fingers in between the stones and crawling over. The stones were tightly mortared. A rainspout, however, did hang almost equidistant between the windows.
Running back in side she grabbed a blanket from her bed. Sticking half her body out the window she was able on the third try to snag the blanket over the spout. She mustered her courage and swung to the next room over. Three quarters of the way across the blanket slipped off the spout. She felt a heart lurching drop, but only for a second. Looking up she saw her brother with Krevek holding onto the blanket and hauling her up. Kalk’s large head poked through Sitre’s window, mere feet away. She heard the large Orc swear as only an Orc can and disappear back inside. As she was halfway in the window she saw Kalk storm into her brother’s room. Kalk’s speech was short and terse but it was unmistakably Elvin.
“You scared me Highness. Even your father would have my head if anything were to come of you. Krevek, make sure the hallway is secured. We don’t need any more soldiers coming up.”
Sitre looked at her brother. He seemed just as confused as she did. Kalk continued in elfish:
“We need to get both of you out of here. The outer wall has been breached and your father’s army won’t last long against Larek’s Pack.”
Imhran looked at Kalk stunned. These were far longer sentences than he’d ever heard Kalk, or any Orc for that matter utter. Another deep reverberation shook the walls. Sitre regained her composure first.
“Who is Larek?”
Krevek answered:
“Larek calls himself the ‘finder of lost tribes’. He claims we were lost three thousand years ago and has come to deliver us. He tracked us through the tunnels to here.”
“Deliver you from whom?” Imhran implored. Kalk’s eyes narrowed.
“From you Imhran. Sitre you come with me. Imhran go with Krevek.”
“Where are you taking us?” Sitre asked, but still walking with Kalk.
“Highness, you are in great danger here. The Pack will not leave many survivors, if any, especially ones such as you. Your father’s army may slow them but the pack has been coming in through the tunnels for months now. Priests of Grummsh have been poisoning the minds of Orcs here, stirring them to action. Getting them ready for tonight. Inciting them to rise up tonight, to rise up and claim their place. I had hoped for more warning but I did not know tonight would be the night.”
“But my father and grandfather worked so hard to come to an understanding?” Sitre said, her world beginning to falter.
“Not enough and not soon enough. The Pack found willing ears too quickly in the valley, in all of Fronthirealm.”
“But you aren’t with them tonight are you?” Sitre stopped, trying to read the Giant Orc.
“There are a few of us who saw the wisdom in your father and your grandfather. With luck we can protect you and your brother and try again somewhere else. Unfortunately Larek does not listen to dissenting opinions.”
The two elves and two Orcs reached the great circular stairwell and started down. Any elf guards they encountered Sitre would bark orders too and have them flank Kalk and Krevek. The main hall was chaos. Skirmishes broke out in every corner. Quickly their swollen ranks dwindled and soon it was just the four figures skulking from shadow to shadow trying to avoid contact.
Outside they had almost reached the stables when a deep and moist thunk caused Kalk to pause. Sitre turned to him and saw an arrow protruding from his shoulder, buried up to the feathers. The large Orc gnashed his lower tusks in pain and tried to reach around to pull it out.
“Guards, seize them. Return the prince and princess to me immediately!”
Ollaan sat atop his horse, bow at the ready. Fifteen elves stood on either side of him weapons raised. Two broke off and went to retrieve Sitre and her brother.
“Go save my father Ollaan!” Sitre shouted. “He needs your help more than we do!”
Ollaan looked confused at the tableau. Sitre and Imhran didn’t seem to be trying to escape their captors.
“Kalk and Krevek I have no idea what you two are planning to do with the prince and princess but it is not too late for you to join us. Let them go and I will make sure your punishment is short.”
“You buffoon! They are protecting us!” Sitre shouted, but she didn’t get farther. At that moment a large group of Orcs swung around the corner of the stable and began to charge. Their breath coming in huge gouts of rancid steam as they ran. Two Orcs rode dire wolves, Some on the ground carried spears and double bladed war axes. The rest of the mob carried pitchforks and scythes and torches. The ones with plowshares slowed when they saw Kalk and Krevek, assessing the situation. Kalk, Krevek, Sitre and Imhran grouped with the other elf soldiers. Several elves had already formed a vanguard of swords in front. The two dire wolves leapt and were downed almost instantly by arrows.
“If we get out of this alive, your father will have my head for not posting more guards on you two.” Ollaan said, notching another arrow. Sitre turned.
“Kalk and Krevek are protecting us. Like they swore to do. Like you have sworn to do.” She spun again and released another volley into the crowd. Picking her shots carefully. Sitre only shot at Orcs with a militant weapon, and then only in the shoulder, or leg. Her brother was more lethal in his shots but he kept to weapon wielding Orcs as opposed to farmers. The rest of the elves were not as picky.
Kalk and Krevek stood at the front of the elves letting their armor stop crossbow bolts, and smashing swords in vicious blows. They snarled in delight as the battle got closer.
A battle horn blew and at once the decimated Orc group beginning to retreat was joined by a much larger Orc battalion. Their ranks came around the corner of the stables, Fifteen Orcs on Dire wolves, twenty Orcs carrying pole arms. Several larger Orcs pushed a battering ram, and tens of Orcs carried swords.
Ollaan called his troops to regroup and begin retreating to reinforcements at the main hall. He stopped one of his generals on horseback and motioned him to dismount. The general looked confused but followed orders. He took both horses over to Kalk.
“You swear on your life and the future of the kingdom that you will protect the princess and her brother?”
Kalk looked up to Ollaan and looked him in the eye. Ollaan cringed looking down into the yellowed bloodshot thing.
“The King, the prince, the princess and yourself have always been fair to us. I swear I will protect them as a subject of this kingdom.”
Ollaan was stunned; he had been expecting a gruff yes, like all Orcs gave, an indication of bare understanding of the task. He was not expecting to be answered in Elfish. Without showing his surprise, Ollaan leapt off the horse and handed the reigns to Kalk.
“Go, protect them. Protect the kingdom.” Ollaan said, drawing his sword and backing away from the advancing horde.
“Yes sir, captain.” Kalk answered. The Orc lifted Sitre roughly onto the horse and jumped on as Krevek did the same with Imhran. They galloped off as fast as the horses would go, past the main hall, towards the wall and finally through a small rarely used gate.
They emerged in a staging ground for the third assault. Orcs saw the horses and reached for their weapons but then saw that the elves seemed subdued by Kalk and Krevek. They were almost through the staging area riding full gallop when the shouts were heard behind them. An Orc scout from the stables had made it past the elves and was sounding the alarm that the elf Prince and Princess were riding through their midst, escaping. Crossbow bolts ricocheted around them. Other Orcs came charging at them, swords drawn. The horses weaved through smoke, around fires and around large groups of angry orcs. Sitre and Imhran fired arrow after arrow until they were through.
Seconds later Sitre turned to check on her brother. The other horse was nowhere to be seen. She shouted and Kalk slowed the horse to a trot as he peered into the darkness as well.
Sitre’s heart sank as she saw the horse, riderless, fifty yards away. Its haunches on the ground, she saw several bolts in the horses flank. Krevek, running, was pushing Imhran in front of him as Imhran looked around for Sitre. Their eyes met and even in the gloom she could seem him nod to her. She could barely make out his shout above the noise.
“Go on!” Imhran had shouted. Kalk had heard as well and redoubled his efforts to get speed out of the horse. They bee lined toward the cliff wall some two miles away. Sitre saw Krevek and Imhran running towards the cliffs to the north, trying to put darkness and confusion between them and the advancing horde.
Twenty minutes later they were at the top of the cliff watching one of the many castle spires fall. Fires dotted the landscape. Sitre felt nothing except tightness in her chest, a fundamental sense of loss.
“We have to circle around the cliffs to find Imhran.”
“No, highness. Larek knows you escaped, or will soon. His scouts will flood the countryside by morning.”
“Where will we go then? We should stay and fight! We should find…” She paused as images of her father and mother and Ollaan and Davren flooded through her mind. Her friends, her family, all were back at the castle.
Faintly on the wind, above the din of fighting and fires, they could hear one speaker, shouting to his people.
“What are they saying? I don’t understand enough. What are they saying Kalk?”
Kalk paused.
“What? What are they saying?”
“They have the king.” Kalk said quietly. Sitre let out only one deep body-wracking sob and then was quiet. Kalk gently put his massive arm around her.
“Highness we must go, so you can be protected and your father’s legacy can live on through you.”
Sitre said nothing but followed Kalk back to the horse. They rode past sunrise, only until the horse was physically unable to run any more. Kalk got off the animal and lead it and a stunned Sitre through the dense forest until almost sundown.
As the sun had just dropped past the horizon Kalk stopped by a clearing next to a river. Sitre dismounted as she heard twigs cracking. Someone was just coming into the clearing. Another Orc much smaller than Kalk entered. Sitre had her bow raised and ready when Kalk put his hand on the arrow and forced her aim into the ground.
“Your highness, this is Verak. She will lead you for a while and protect you, as I am unable to now. She knows these forests and the lands beyond better than I. Stay ahead of the Pack and I will keep in contact with you.”
“What?” Sitre asked incredulously.
“I cannot stay with you.”
“Where are you going?”
“I sent word to Verak two moons ago for help. She will protect you. I will look for your brother and any other of your Dynasty while I am still able.”
“I’m going with you!” Sitre demanded.”
“You are not…” he looked down. “Your Highness. You cannot even begin to think you could slip into the Pack unnoticed. Maybe someday, but not now. I will update Verak to my findings.”
And with that Kalk mounted the horse and rode back in the direction they came. Verak smiled gently at Sitre, large lower tusks pressing into her cheeks.
“I’m supposed to go with you then?” Sitre said. Verak smiled back, not responding.
“Do you speak my language?”
Verak continued to smile.
“I don’t speak much Orc.” Sitre said in Kalk’s tongue.
“That is okay, young one. I will teach you.”

For the next seven years Sitre stayed with Verak. She became used to Verak’s company and regarded her like an aunt. A large, smelly but wise old aunt. Kalk sent word of his findings for several weeks. Sitre didn’t know how, but Verak would, occasionally, over a dinner fire, tell Sitre Kalk’s progress. Her brother had survived that night. However she didn’t know in what condition. Some of the other council members had fled as well, but Kalk didn’t know of their current status or whereabouts either.
The Pack dogged Sitre’s trail for almost two years after that. Verak would show Sitre how to evade them. They forded rivers Sitre wouldn’t have attempted by boat much less the ways they did cross. They climbed peaks and traveled across valleys. Sometimes they could hear the Pack howling at the moon two valleys over. Sometimes the Dire wolves would pass within inches.
Three weeks after Sitre had last heard the howling of the Pack she realized just how large her world had become. No longer was she a few days ride from the castle walls. She looked around as the sun rose. The two of them were sitting on a small mound in an ocean of grass as far as the eye could see. Nothing but a green horizon in the direction they came from. In the other, a solid sea of green stretching to faint blue mountains to which they were heading. Winds blew and made dark green waves. Verak came up to her and stood next to Sitre, easily two feet taller than Sitre. Verak merely stood there looking into the distance. Sitre knew this to be a test.
She relaxed and concentrated. There on the wind was the scent of the Pack. They must have picked up her trail again. They ate their breakfast in silence. Sitre could tell than they were many leagues away, but they were getting closer. They packed up their camp leaving no trace of their stay and walked casually towards the blue mountains in the distance.
Seven years Verak protected Sitre. They hadn’t heard from Kalk in five, and more than once Sitre vowed to go back only have Verak hold her down and talk sense into her. However now, Verak was getting older. Sitre noticed that Verak worked harder to keep up with her. They stopped more and broke for camp earlier in the day. Sitre decided that she had a long time to plan revenge. It would need to be perfect and in the mean time she would learn all she could about The Pack and Larek and the world around her.

One morning Verak awoke to find Sitre gone.


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