Episode Six - The Joys of Distant Relations or Blood - and Skulls - Are Thicker Than Water
"That vermillion tent over there, then. Come get us when you are finished filling the water skins."
"Be safe, miss. Ozzie, for god's sake, keep your mouth shut."
I was a little offended as he walked off. Can I help it if I wasn't as jaded as these two cosmopolitan, seen-everything types? People gaped at me all the time on the docks, never bothered me. Danny just didn't know what it was like to be different is all. You get used to the stares. "Minerva, how you know that's a tea tent?" I couldn't ever remember having this many questions.
"The banner on the side depicts tea leaves."
I squinted at it. I even tried turning my head at different angles. "That's just weird blobs."
"It's a stylized representation of how tea leaves look after they've been brewed."
I had to think about that for a second before it made much sense. "Oh." Something else occurred to me. "Hey, you should let me hold the money."
"Because I know where Riordan puts it to keep it safe." He had pulled me aside into a doorway to stash my half of the coins in a similar place myself. Did I mention what the weather had been like lately? That was a chilling experience.
She looked a little uncomfortable as she handed the purse to me. "Perhaps the vendor will have towels for washing our hands."
"What do you mean? You mean like he'd bring us water and towels to wash with? I thought he sold tea."
"In some places, small towels are dampened with clean, perfumed water so that travelers may clean their hands or faces before eating."
"Get out of here! Were you born to a rich family or something?"
She ducked her head and smiled. "That was a long, long time ago, Osgun."
"Huh!" Born to a rich family. I always thought she was too perfect to have come from the docks. "I never knew that. How come you never say anything about that?"
"Why do you never let on how talkative you can be?"
I slid her a look to make sure she wasn't making fun of me. "Wouldn't be right," I mumbled, remembering that it really wasn't my place to be talking to her. Especially not if she was from a good family.
"Nice girls don't talk to half-orcs." Too late, I thought that one through. "I mean, you do 'cause you're really, really nice. As in kind. And the other way, but…" Oh, shit. Riordan was right. No staring, no pointing, no talking. "If I didn't say nothin', people look at you talking to me and say 'Oh, she's a kind girl talking to that ugly half orc'. I talk back, they start thinking there's something not right about it." I clamped my mouth shut, starting to sweat a little despite the cold air. Blame it on lack of eloquence, pleeeease… though it galled me a little to realize I couldn't have sounded more fumble tongued and dim witted if I had planned it all night.
Minerva was quiet a moment as we threaded through the crowds toward the bright red tent. "This is the third winter I've worked waiting tables for Gray Sam. All this time you've held your tongue to protect my honor?"
Hey. When she said it that way, I sounded like a pretty heroic guy. Sounded a lot better than spending three years sitting on my ass on a bar stool drinking myself fuzzy headed and sneaking peeks down her top. Ah, I couldn't live with myself if I let her go on thinking about it in that light. "Well, if I hadn't kept quiet, you'd have probably had to stop talking to me." And that was the truth of the matter. There were plenty of places closer to the docks I worked than the Hammered Hand, some of them cheaper, some of them with better ale. But nowhere else have I ever had a pretty girl just talk to me. Not like Minerva. Some cold evenings when I was small and there were no people to entertain, the bard would talk to me. Just ramble about his thoughts, odd things like wondering what sea gulls fought over or where the sun might go when it set. He had a gift for making the stupidest things seem interesting or magical. Minerva had a similar kind of knack, except she didn't talk about stupid things and she wasn't pompous. And she had much nicer breasts.
But "hmm" was all she said at that particular moment. Then, "Here we are," as she stepped aside to let me pull the tent flap open for her. It was much warmer inside than out, though the walls flapped with the winter winds. The top tent panels were of a gauzier material that let in more light than I thought it would, and everything inside had a strange rosy glow. There were oil lamps about to make up for what light was lacking and several braziers of heated coals to warm the water and the guests with minimal smoke. It was a little quieter in here than I figured, considering how loud and obnoxious everyone seemed to be out in the open air, but as Minerva headed for some empty seats at the end of a table, I saw why. They saw me at the same time.
I've never really had the opportunity to see a real orc before. Like merfolk and a lot of other stuff, I catch glimpses of a lot of things sometimes on boats, or being offloaded with cargo. Once or twice I've seen orcs in cages or shackles being led off the boats by slavers or bounty hunters, but never up close. Heh. They had smaller eyes than I had. Bet they couldn't see straight in front of themselves without going cross-eyed, much less read. But they were certainly big, ugly fellows.
Now I wouldn't say that I had stared at them. I had looked at them, certainly, and when they looked at me, I didn't jerk my eyes away guiltily or anything like that. I merely finished my gaze politely (they all had matching leather armor, dyed black - spiffy!) gave a nod, then went about my business. I was just following Minerva's lead on how to drink tea - blow on it first, so you don't burn your mouth, cup your hands around it to warm your fingers, honey makes it taste less like weak soup water - when I heard heavy footsteps behind me. I didn't even need to see Minerva's dark eyes get wider to know what was going on.
"Urkana gor metchack ana stik!"
"Don't speak your language, guy, but I'm gonna take a wild guess and assume you're saying I'm ugly." I said mildly, turning around to face him.
"Ugly, puny, stupid! You not even know how to talk right!" He was about half a foot taller than I was, broader, covered with coarse brown hair. His tusks were better developed than mine. Call me catty, but sitting on a bench as I was with him standing over me, I was in a position to guess that the tusks were the only thing he had that was better developed than mine.
"Well," I said, taking a moment to size him up as around us the tables were quietly clearing of guests. He was bigger, yes. Longer reach than most men I'd fought. Armored. But that leather wasn't going to help all that much against the chain if I got a good enough swing into him. Battle-axe was all he had as a weapon. Nah. My only real concern in this fight would be keeping it away from Minerva. "Ain't met a soul yet as thinks I'm good lookin'. I am smaller than you, can't deny that. Now the 'stupid' remark might have pissed me off, except that you speak at least two languages and I only speak one. So I don't have a lot to argue with you about. You want a piece of me, though, I'll step outside with you and give you as big a one as you can handle."
"Half breed no should be allowed to live," sneered my new friend, reaching down to grab me by my shirtfront and jerk me to my feet. I was kind of impressed. He was the first I'd met who could manage that move on me since I've been grown.
"Kafok!" a voice barked across the tent, drawing both our attention. One of the other orcs was picking something out of his fingernails. "Boss says he want leave when he finish tea. Make it quick." I had missed it before, but there was a human in robes sitting with the spiffily dressed orcs. He was sipping his tea complacently and apparently ignoring the whole incident.
Minerva looked quickly from me and my chum to the man in robes, then cleared her voice and spoke in a more heavily accented voice than usual. "Pardon me, but your guard appears to be molesting my guard. Would you please call him off?"
The man in robes looked her way and smiled. If I didn't have other things to attend to first, I would have gone over there and wiped it off his face. Not a nice way to look at a lady. "So sorry for the inconvenience, madam. Kafok, take it outside. You're bothering the lady."
Minerva looked upset, but it was good by me. I actually chuckled a little as my friend Kafok swung me around and dragged me outside. It was exactly like being a kid again. The noteworthy exception would be that I didn't know how to use a chain very well when I was a kid.
You could look at this two ways. Version one, he was going to keep hold of me and try to pound my face in, in which case I wasn't worried. I had a pretty thick skull. I been hit with swinging booms, dropping gangplanks, slipping crates of cargo and more than my fair share of bricks hucked by fellows like this one who just didn't like my type. He wanted to get a few good hits in on me to assuage his offended sense of racial purity, good on him. More than that, well, we'd see what he did when I kicked his kneecap into the cobbler's booth across the way. Version two, he was going to try to kill me, in which case he would probably want to use his axe. That was all good, too. He'd have to drop me to pull the axe and get a good swing.
I used one hand to loosen my chain as he hauled me out front. There were shouts and scattering people as Kafok threw me to the ground and drew his axe. "Me clean orc people of half-orc disgrace!"
I hit the ground and kept rolling, coming up about fifteen feet away with my chain out. "Like I had any control over who my father ----ed before I was born." People and their logic confused me sometimes.
He roared and charged at me, axe swinging. I swung the chain around once to build a little speed, then let go of one end and swept his feet out from under him. He hit the ground hard, his axe bouncing back to give him an ugly gash on the forehead. I wasn't worried; it didn't even sink into the bone.
"Hey," I told him, stepping back and making a slower loop with the chain as he blinked repeatedly and tried to struggle to his feet, "we ever meet again, you teach me how to speak Orc, I'll show you how to use a chain." With that I popped him a good one in the head with the hook. He grunted heavily and slumped face first in the dirt. I trusted his skull was as thick as mine and that he would wake up in a little while. I wrapped my chain around my waist, apologized to a few nearby vendors for the interruption in business and then stepped back inside. Minerva was at the flap on her way out, looking anxious. I gave her a reassuring smile.
"Oh, Ozzie are you hurt?" she asked suddenly, clutching at my arm.
"Huh? Not at all."
"You looked like you were in pain just now."
Okay, leave the reassuring smiles to the professionals. "Nah, he didn't even lay a finger on me. I'm good. Hey," I called past her to the rest of the orcs, who were squinting at me in mild confusion. "He did a good job. Made it fast. I learned my lesson good. My apologies." I held the flap for Minerva to exit, adding under my breath, "I'm going to go back in time and convince my father to ---- a goat instead." Morons. I felt myself blush down to my toes as Minerva gave me a startled look at the language. Right. No staring, no pointing, no talking. "We still have time to go catch Danny at the well?" I changed the subject.Next Week: The Journey Begins and a Wool-Earned Rest