The knight who fought alongside Portnoyhunt suddenly appeared, to mixed cheering and insults.
"Ha ha ha! Piggy and Fartface are going to win! I told you!" caroled one of the men.
"You worthless sod, McAssfree, what happened?" the big guy demanded of the new arrival.
"Forjace took my sword through his leg and twisted when he dropped. Took it out of my hands. Unjabog was on me before I straightened back up."
"Ha ha ha! Ponyhump is doomed and you are my sister."
"Not 'til I see him here, I ain't."
Abruptly, the orc that I assumed was named Forjace appeared in the center of the little gray room, looking exceptionally pissed off. With a roar, he lunged for McAssfree, who dodged, then settled for Squibbs, who he grabbed by the throat. "Fartface, by all that's holy, let him go! His time's almost up! Calm down, you idiot!" Frubuck bellowed at him.
"Stupid orcs, they can't pull their heads out of their asses enough not to fit inside the mace. Fru, remember when we spent two damn days in here 'cuz Piggy was in a bad mood and kept killin' us right before it was time to leave?"
Somebody grumbled, "Pony should just take a fall so we don't have to be stuck in here with Piggy."
"I hate Piggy," the little guy they called Deeter sniffed.
"I hate all of you," said another.
"We all hate you, Goathump," Frubuck snapped back at him.
"My name is Smythe, goddammit! How do you get 'Goathump' from 'Smythe'?"
One of the leather-clad boys whose name I hadn't caught answered that one. "You just look like a goathump."
If I'd thought screaming would help, I would have. That unproductive conversation was cut short, however, by the arrival of Gortjon Unjabog in all eight feet and close to four hundred pounds of towering rage. I took a cue from the rest of them and scattered around the little room as best I could, dodging his angry grasp. No way in hell I could handle an extra hour in here with these morons. Through the shouts and the mayhem came the only words I could have heard to make the situation possibly get any worse.
"Damn it, Deeter, put your pants back on!"
Sooner than I might have expected, I found myself back outside the mace. Portnoyhunt was sitting with his helmet off, somewhat apart from the others that had reappeared. "Nice job," I mumbled to him, then found a dark place to sit in.
"Thank you, friend. Osgun, was it?" He was a slightly older guy. Sounded a little like Gray Sam.
"Your associate, Master Ahwadi, seemed like a very intelligent man. He seemed to think this problem had a solution."
"Yeah, if anyone can figure it out, it's Danny and Minerva. They're both real smart." Smart enough to have warned me about this whole situation way ahead of time.
Smythe looked over towards us. "What's the new guy's name again? Osgun?" He looked around smirking, like he was about to be clever. "More like Os-bun."
"Goathump, you idiot, what's 'Osbun' supposed to be?"
"Like buns. You know, like you sit on. ...your buns?"
"And you have to ask why we call you goathump."
Maybe if I cut off my ears, I wouldn't have to listen to them.
"Well, why don't you call him Goathump? It sounds just as much like Osgun as it does Smythe!"
"Because he's not a goathump, Goathump!" Frubuck roared irritably.
One of the other guys made a suggestion, trying to be helpful or something. "We could call him Os-pig, because he's an orc like Unja-pig."
"Nah, he's only a half-orc. And it would get too confusing having two Piggies."
"So call him The Half-Pig," Squibbs snickered. That got a round of laughs.
I was starting to get really pissed off again. "I don't see why it would be confusing having two Piggies. You already have a dozen Goathumps."
"Aw, the Half-Pig doesn't like his name. Poor Half-Piggy."
In desperation, I turned to Portnoyhunt. "This is hell, isn't it. We are dead and in hell."
He looked sorrowful. "Yes, my boy. I think so."
Gortjon Unjabog reappeared to cries of, "The Pig returns! All hail the Pig!" Fuming, he stalked across the shadowy hut to stand in front of the knight. Breathing heavy like an angry bull, he glowered down at the old man, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"One, two, three, four, five..." Portnoyhunt was doing a headcount, ignoring the orc. The big guy was making me nervous, standing there like that, so I stood up.
"Hey, Unjabog," I tried not to sound too inflammatory, but my hand on my chain made it clear I wasn't about to back down. "He won fair and square. Take it like a man and leave him alone."
"Shut up, halfbreed maggot," was his response.
I frowned. "I said..." I felt a hand on my arm and turned to see who it was I was going to have to pulp.
"Think about it a minute, Half-Pig." It was one of the lighter guys. I didn't recall catching his name, real or otherwise. "What happens if Piggy snaps his neck right now."
"He just goes into the mace. But it's still not fair. He won the fight and..."
"And think about it a minute," the little guy urged again. "What happens to Ponyhump inside the mace?"
I furrowed my brow. "Nothing. He just sits there for an hour and then he..."
"...twelve, myself is thirteen, yourself is fourteen and the new fellow is fifteen. All accounted for, Master Unjabog. You gentlemen behave yourself while an old man enjoys some peace and quiet, eh? Proceed, Piggy, old chap." Portnoyhunt had what was almost a happy look on his face.
"...gets an hour alone," I finished in some degree of wonderment as Unjabog reached out and wrenched the knight's neck with savage ill grace. Portnoyhunt vanished. "I am so winning the next fight," I breathed. The hell with how sick this all seemed. "I have to win."
The guy laughed. "Stand in line, Half-Pig. Here now, what's this? Do we have a number sixteen?"
"Two in one day?" grinned one of the humans. "We haven't had that since Bonebiter picked up the mace to see what happened to Squibbs."
"Shut up, you gob. How was I to know it was the mace as made him go poof?"
Squinting into the morning light, I saw a familiar, short form had slipped around the corner and into the hut. Riordan! If ever a group of people made Riordan look appealing, this lot was it. I nearly cried.
"Hey, Deeter! Looks like you won't be the smallest guy in the mace anymore!"
"We'll name him 'Kid Sister'," somebody else leered.
"How about 'Pig's Girlfriend'?"
The raucous laughter was cut short by a collective gasp as Riordan muttered something and then picked the mace up off the decorated skins it had been resting on.
"How'd he do that?" someone howled.
"Ponyhump! Pony gave the words to that Ass-wadi fellow and he must have told this guy! Cheater! Somebody kill me! Ponyhump doesn't deserve solitary after a stunt like this."
"Ah, heck, he's taking the mace out in the sun!"
"Will you all shut up for a minute?" I said, drawing everyone's attention as we started to shuffle reluctantly into the daylight after Riordan and the mace. "If anyone can figure a way to break us out of this mace once and for all, it's going to be him. So cut the crap."
Frubuck spit on the ground and gave me a look that wasn't too far from eye to eye. He was a pretty big fellow. "And what makes you think he's going to try to break you out of the mace now that he has it? It's a pretty damn formidable weapon, if I do say so myself. Pony. Piggy. McAssfree. Fartface. Me. We're all worth four or five regular men. Hell, even Deeter is good for a few in a fight, so long as he can get behind 'em. Why would he give that up just to spring you?"
Huh. Why would he give that up? He had the command words. If he just kept the mace, he could have all my money plus finally enough muscle to protect it. Muscle that couldn't betray him and take the money. Heck, he'd even have the rest of the trip alone with Minerva. He would be flat out stupid not to keep the mace for himself. "Um. He just would. He's that kind of guy."
"You mean a stupid kind of guy."
"Um," I mumbled. Riordan wasn't stupid. Crap.