Episode 19 - Con. It's spelled C-O-N...
It wasn't that hard to follow them. I remembered the rock outcroppings they had headed off toward when they left the road earlier that day. Once I found those, their tracks were pretty clear. I'm no expert, but they were bigger than I was, which made their trail fairly clear. I think I've mentioned to you before that it's easier for me to see in the dark than in broad daylight, so with little problem by the middle of the night I found myself approaching what look like a large camp.
Should I have been surprised that almost everyone was awake? There were a few fires burning with people gathered around them. Here and there, giant, hair covered bodies went about their business, while children played. A shout had gone up and four big looking types were headed out to meet me. I could see the moonlight glinting off metal, but they weren't charging out here like they were going to kill me, so I kept my pace steady.
One of the big types shouted a query at me in orcish. "Don't speak orc. Just common." I spread my hands in an apology. They muttered amongst themselves, then one spoke.
"Who you? What you doin?"
"Wow. A lot of you guys speak more than one language. I'm, uh, Osgun. I was talking to some orcs earlier about a guy named, uh, Gortjon Ungaborg."
"Uh, yeah. Anyway, they said I should come visit... so, uh... I did." In the middle of the night like some marauder. What an idiot.
"Huh," the one I had been talking to remarked, looking down at me. I tried to figure out what the weird feeling I was having might be, then realized all of a sudden what it was. I was the littlest guy in the group. It had been a long, long time since I had been the little guy. Kind of creeped me out. The orc grunted at me. "You know Gortjon?"
"Who, me? No, never. Uh, the guy I talked to earlier kind of thought there was some resemblance, but it's probably just coincidence."
"Fluke?" The orc squinted at me as if he was gauging whether or not to pound me a good one. "Okay. Well! Guess I'll be heading back to the caravan now," I forced a friendly smile and waved. Man, had I blown that one.
"Well, look what come to see real people." A voice coming from the village stopped me - It was the orc I had spoken with earlier at the caravan. He pointed to me and said something in orcish. The others peered at me a little more closely. He seemed to be pointing to the chin again, drawing some contemplative nods from the rest. I reached up and rubbed my stubble self-consciously. "Good that you come. You eat yet?"
"Uh, no." Maybe this trip wasn't a complete disaster after all.
"Good. Come to main fire. Have food, talk with old guys of the camp." He wandered back toward the main fire, scratching himself. The other orcs on the welcome committee gave me one last look and then followed him.
So there I found myself, sitting around the main fire, surrounded by actual honest-to-gods orcs. It was not really the learning experience I had hoped for. I didn't speak their language and they weren't particularly interested in playing charades. Well, most of them weren't. Fica was.
I knew her name was Fica because she walked over, knocked away the bulky warrior-type next to me and plomped herself down in his place. Then she pointed to herself and said, "Fica." Come to think of it, she might have just been issuing an order. I had caught sight of a few orc women around the camp already. They were massive, towering creatures as big as the men, with broad hips and large breasts. There was no mistaking them for anything but female, but there was nothing graceful about these hairy creatures.
Fica, though, Fica was a woman apart. Even in an encampment of orcs, she was a huge sight. She was the biggest, hairiest fat woman I have ever seen. Full, pouty lips enfolded her fangs, just above a set of chins that would make a lard merchant blush with envy. Large shoulders supported massive breasts the size of net floats. A moundlike belly too shapeless and widespread to be from pregnancy provided aesthetic balance to a pair jutting, rounding hips that made her as wide as any two orcs there. She took a moment to scratch through the stiff brown hair on her shoulders and then gave me a thump in the chest that rocked me back. Flashing what was unmistakeably supposed to be a charming grin, she pointed to herself once more. "Fica."
"Wow," was all I managed to say.
"You like?" It was my friend from earlier, come to take a place at the main fire. "She wants you."
"Uh, yeah. She's, uh, talented at communicating."
"Let her take you," my friend suggested. Something about his expression made me think I was the butt of a joke here.
"Ah, no," I tried to apologize politely to Fica. She was starting to look pissed and I wasn't sure I wanted her mad at me. Everyone here was bigger than I was, but she was the only one so far that instilled fear in me. My chain would just bounce off that. Or get lost. "Uh," I thought fast and held up a pinky finger with a regretful expression and then pointed at my groin and shrugged apologetically. "You'd be disappointed. Really."
There was some snickering from around the campfire. Apparently some gestures are universal. I was not prepared for the lady to try to verify the matter, though. "Hey, now, that's... hey!"
"Fenga no Gortjon bom rek," she said in a catty tone, evoking more snickers. I could guess what she meant, but at least she was staying on her side of my pants, now. That being the outside.
"That my thing isn't big enough to resemble Gortjon's?"
The orc looked a little surprised. "You learn the language quick."
"Nah. That's just the traditional response in most cultures. I hear the elves don't say it, but that's because they're all tiny anyway. Everybody else, it's like a ritual. Happens fifteen times a night in every sleazy bar from here to the ancient temple cities in the south."
He just kind of looked at me. A few more orcs were beginning to gather around the fire, and although none of them were making an attempt to talk to me, they did seem to be talking about me.
"Hey, guy," I said mildly, trying to ignore the fact that everyone was staring at me in a rather enigmatic fashion. "Mind clueing me in?"
"To what?" he grunted.
"Pardon my modesty, but I'm not that ugly looking to create this much of a stir."
"Yeah you are. But you right. That not what everyone talking about." I waited patiently and finally he spoke again, picking his thick claw-like fingernails. "You could maybe be answer to a problem we havin'."
I sat back and tried to ignore Fica's speculative stare. Apparently she was thinking about double-checking her earlier figures. "What kind of problem is that?"
"Gortjon Unjabog was big man round here. Head warrior. Whatchoocallem king. When he go away, leave whole buncha guys, all want to be king. Get me?"
"I get you. People been tearing each other apart to take over the tribe."
"How would I fit into that?"
"You look like Gortjon. You got same chin. Same ears. Everybody think so. So you take Gortjon's spot. You order fights to see who toughest orc in tribe. Then you make him king. Work good."
I edged away from Fica's hand, which, finding itself on the ground close to me, was proceeding to play with my ass. "Why not just have the fights without me?"
"You think we stupid? Try that already. Someone say, 'we hold fights today at moonrise', everyone else say, 'who die and make you Gortjon Unjabog?' Somebody say he think he should be big king, two guys team up, jump him while he off takin' shit, stab him in back. No way to tell who is strongest. Just problems. Lotsa years now, all we have is problems. Everybody hungry all the time because big guys too busy killing each other to kill things to eat. Big problem alla time. You, now, you maybe answer. Get me?"
"I get you." I looked around the camp. These weren't a very prosperous people. Aside from Fica, not a one of them had extra weight on them. Bone and muscle, that was it. Looking a little more closely at some of the youngsters, I remembered what it was like sneaking fish guts to get by when I was a little guy myself and sighed. What the hell. I'd give it a shot. "Okay, but just to get your fights organized and declare a winner. And no prolonged stuff, either. I have to get back to my friends."
He broke into a smile of satisfaction and then addressed the group. All the orcs around the fire looked at each other and broke into a coarse cheer of approval. Terrifyingly, Fica swept me into a suggestive hug. Fortunately, I found a path out from between her breasts and made an escape or I might have gone the way of Gortjon Unjabog.
At my insistence, the trials would begin the next night at sunset. The night was drawing to a close or I would have asked them to do it immediately. Since there were only a few hours until dawn, however, they decided to spend them in a party.
Riordan's warning echoed in my ears and I did not drink much of the vile grog that the rest of them began drinking in large quantities. Some large and slightly rotted carcasses that they had been saving for later were dragged out and spread around to the village in honor of the occasion. There was drumming and the women did some interesting dancing that I suppose you could get used to in time if you were lonely for long enough. I declined Fica's advances several times over the course of the evening.
Finally, shortly before dawn, they brought out a bloodstained mace with much pomp and circumstance. There was a big show of presenting it to me. "Go on," said my friend the translator. "It the mace of the king. You hold it til tomorrow sunrise when you give it to winner."
"Yeah, okay." I got to my feet and brushed off my hands on the seat of my pants to take the mace from the brawny maidens bearing it to me on a painted square of horsehide. "As long as I don't have to make a speech or anything."
"Nah, that's okay," said my friend with a grin as I picked up the mace.
That bastard.Next week - "The Curse of the Mace" or "May I please die and go to hell instead?"