A length of chain, a mug of ale and thou...
The Rubiyaat of OzzieAlexandra Queen - firstname.lastname@example.org
Episode 18 - Cons and Fish Stories
A whistle sounded from the front of the caravan, causing me and the horse to get instantly mulish. That was the alert signal and both of us knew it meant I´d have to get on. Riordan fell back to grab my horse´s bridle so I could crawl back into the saddle, because the horse sure wasn´t going to stand still for it. Not that I blamed it. There wasn´t much change in speed; they didn´t want the wagons to be caught at a stand still. Maybe a slight slowing, then continuing on, riders sent ahead to check things out, no doubt.
A scruffy man on a mule came trotting back along the train, pausing beside the nearest wagon. Naturally we moved up to hear the news. "Orcs! Three of em alongside the road. Claims they is a huntin´ party! No sign of ambush." He spit over the side of his mule before adding menacingly, "We´re watchin´ em." Giving me a dirty look, he rode on down the line with his news.
"Don´t stare," Riordan reminded me. "And don´t react if they call you names. Lot of people are bigots."
I mumbled a response and slouched in my saddle, irritable as my horse about the whole thing. If they were going to say anything, I could certainly guess what it was going to be.
"You going to be okay?" Riordan asked.
"Dunno. I´ve never had anyone call me an ugly half breed before." He sat back, a sour twist to his mouth in response to the cut in my tone. Seeing him feel rebuffed gave me a perverse sense of satisfaction. "Hey, if I start to cry, could you maybe... hold me?"
"Sorry, Osgun," he replied coldly. "I keep forgetting you´re used to not having any friends."
I hrumphed quietly to myself as he gave me the cold shoulder. If by "friends" he meant people being condescending assholes to me, why then, yes, thank you very much, I´d had more than my fair share. I didn´t say it out loud, though, not because I didn´t want to hurt his feelings any more, but because I didn´t want him to have a chance to see the comment from my point of view. He might apologize and try to patch things up. The thought of riding past orcish sneers and threats and then looking over and seeing a look of support or sympathy on either Riordan´s or Minerva´s face was like cutting your hand gutting fish and then getting packing salt in the wound. I don´t really know why. You´d think it would be just the opposite - that it might be nice having people give a shit about me for a change. But that didn´t seem to be how it worked. Maybe I just didn´t want to hear some assholes call me an ugly weakling and then have people I kind of liked treat me like I was weak. Like what some random morons thought was going to affect me. It´s not like those orcs were going to get to know me and then say, "Geeze, Ozzie, we´ve been hanging out for a while, and I gotta say you´re a real piece of shit." They were going to hate me for something so broad that wasting sympathy on it gave it more credibility than it deserved. I´d apologize to Riordan later, but for right now his being pissed off was fine. I wouldn´t even look at Minerva, so I wouldn´t have to make her mad to keep from seeing that look on her face. As we rode along, I got to worrying that maybe not looking at her was making her mad, or that she was mad about me being a jerk to Riordan and I snuck a peek at her anyway. She was busy looking around, watching, and when she did glance my way, she didn´t look like she felt there was anything out of the ordinary going on. I swear I loved her more every day.
By this time, three bulky figures were visible alongside the road up ahead. They were in various stages of loitering, one leaning on a spear, one squatting on the ground, the other rummaging through a bag. I´ve seen people do the same on the docks when an entourage of some rich merchant comes riding through with valuables in tow. Sizing up. Pretending not to watch. What was different this time, though, was their reaction to me.
I couldn´t help myself from studying them as we rode up, looking at how they were built, what they wore, how they were like with one another. Their gear and clothing looked like an odd assortment of crudely made stuff and store bought, most of it old and poorly taken care of. One had leather greaves on that looked so new I would believe they had just been purchased that morning. The rest of his stuff looked like it had been dragged along the harbor shore at low tide. I was so intent on looking for clues as to how they lived and what type of people they were that I almost didn´t notice when the standing one saw me and did a double take. He straightened up and thumped the shoulder of the squatting one, obviously pointing me out. Within short order, all three of them were on their feet looking at me, whispering amongst themselves and making small gestures toward chin and ears, then nodding. Some of the nearby riders in the caravan were starting to look at me now, trying to see for themselves what had these roadside vagrants so interested in me. Riordan looked sharply at them, then turned around in his saddle to catch my eye and sternly mouthed, "It´s a con." When I glowered a bit and looked away, he gave voice to his words. "Ozzie, you hear me?"
"I heard ya," I snapped. Of course they wanted something. Everyone wanted something.
As I started to ride past, they started ambling along, keeping pace with me, watching me and discussing amongst themselves. I tried to ignore them and the curious looks from everyone else in the caravan. Well, everyone but Riordan, who was glaring, and Minerva, who was blessedly pretending not to notice the orcs or the interest I was somehow exciting. Finally I couldn´t take it any longer. "What the hell are you looking at!?"
I was a little surprised that they didn´t react more hostilely to being shouted at. One of them jerked his chin in my direction. "Hey - you got family local?"
That was not what I was expecting. "What?"
"Family! You got some round here? Who your daddy, big guy?"
It didn´t sound like they were trying to make fun of me. Was I just getting so desensitized to mockery that I didn´t recognize it? "Go to hell," I said, just to be sure.
Didn´t even faze them. "That be an Unjabog chin, don´t it though?"
"Chin and ears. Not seen em like that since Gortjon Unjabog go off to battle, not come back them years ago."
"You ever meet a Gortjon Unjabog?" This last was directed at me. I told him what he could do with his Gortjon Unjabog. He didn´t seem to find it unusual or rude. "He head east when I be just a little guy. Him and buncha muscle types. They go, look for money, look for glory. None o´ them guys ever come back. Caused us lotta problems. Gortjon Unjabog, he big guy in our tribe. Us always wonder what happen to him - too big for snail boys in their metal shells to kill, we say. Maybe we right after all."
One of the other two grunted a laugh. "Gortjon Unjabog crush the snail boys, make lotsa ugly half-slug babies with their women!"
"That´s human, asshole!" Riordan butted tactfully into the conversation. I wonder if he ever thought about what he said before he said it.
Fortunately for Riordan, though, the orc just laughed, then turned back to me. "You come see us some time. Some of the old guys, they maybe like to see Gortjon Unjabog´s son. Maybe some other guys like to see you, too," he added cryptically, then smiled. "Hey, you can bring your pet snail," he pointed to Riordan. "They kinda cute out of their shells, all wrapped in cloth."
"Of all the stupid lines&" Riordan glowered at them as they walked off, headed away from the trail. "I have heard that orcs are stupid, but those guys must be solid bone above the ears if they think we´re going to fall for that."
So, predictably - you guessed it - soon as we camped for the night and everyone was asleep, I snuck off. Oh, I slipped my body purses off and left them beside Minerva, taking a brief last look at her before I went. And I found the guys standing watch at our end of the caravan and left Riordan a message that I would catch up with them again in a day or two. But then I went trotting off in the dark, back down the road towards where I had seen the orcs.
I was curious, of course. And what did I have to lose? All my valuables were back in the caravan with Danny and Minerva. If they were going to beat me up and take my boots, it still sounded like a fair tradeoff to take a peek at orcs living naturally. I had no idea what to expect. Old fishermen like to tell stories, and sitting up drinking in the Hammered Hand, I had heard tales of how orcs lived in shanties made from the bones of decent farming folk and how their favorite food was boiled baby.
On the other hand, the same fellow, One-Eye Frode, used to tell a tale of how he caught a magic fish that granted him three wishes in exchange for his freedom. He had tossed the fish overboard and wished for what he referred to as a "larger mast". Sure enough, he heard the sound of canvas being shredded in the vicinity of his crotch, and when he looked down, the new and monumental growth that was springing up poked out his eye. He claimed he had to waste the remaining two wishes on whittling the behemoth down to what he referred to as a "respectable twelve inches" and on a new pair of pants. "Aye, boys, comin´ in from a long, cold night´s fishin, there´s just some things ye don´t want to be brandishin´ at the lads on the dock. People´ll get the wrong impression." Anyone who would dare imply that this tale might have a bit of embellishment was invited to check out the evidence for themselves. No one ever did. So lacking a credible source on orc lifestyles, I decided that I simply couldn´t pass up this opportunity to find out more about them first hand.Next Week - Con. It´s spelled C-O-N...