“Shields at the ready men! Hold the line!”
The standard bearer galloped down the row of Paladins, their white armor reflecting the full moon as it bathed them in its pale glow. His spear held aloft and the flag of their noble company flying proudly, he rallied the villagers behind them, the heavy hooves of his steed sinking into the wet mud. They were a disorganized rabble, impoverished farmers and woodsmen, their clothing ragged, and their weapons merely repurposed farm tools. Axes, hoes, and scythes, coated in rust and too blunt to pierce anything but a sack of grain. They were here to defend these people, and their remote village, from a band of roving Orcs who had been sighted nearby. Orcs did not congregate near human settlements without good reason, and as they had suspected, the warband had moved into position and was preparing to launch an assault.
Orcs were savage, evil creatures, hulking masses of brawn and violence who preyed on the helpless and raided defenseless towns on the outskirts of the kingdom for plunder and slaves. Paladins were sworn to protect the weak, and counter the forces of evil wherever they might be found, and so the two dozen knights steeled themselves for battle.
The rain began to pour, fat, heavy droplets clattering on their winged helmets and steel shoulder plates. Bevan peered through the slot in his visor, his eyes straining to make out shapes through the darkness and the storm. He clutched at his spear, keeping it level over his heavy shield, interlocking with those of his brothers to his left and right. Together they formed an impenetrable wall, ready to skewer anything that dared to attack them from the front. Behind him he could hear the horse snorting and its heavy footfalls as it stamped impatiently, along with the apprehensive murmuring of the villagers. They were reluctant, some far too old to fight, others too young, but those that fell on the battlefield in defense of their loved ones would be looked upon favorably by the Divines, Bevan was certain of it.
A flash of lightning illuminated the field before them, and for a moment Bevan could see the silhouetted shapes of the Orcs, lining up on the hill to meet their challenge. They were taller and wider than a man, great, hulking beasts, their features obscured beneath a layer of crudely hammered iron and animal pelts. There were dozens of them, a hundred maybe, too many. Bevan felt a twinge of fear rise in his belly, but he quickly banished it, murmuring a prayer of purity under his breath as the standard bearer marshaled the troops.
“Stand your ground, give them no quarter! Auxiliaries, hold back unless the line is broken!”
“T-this is folly! We’re done for!” One of the villagers dropped his rusted scythe in the mud, turning to run back towards the wooden shacks.
“There is no place in heaven for cowards!” The standard bearer called to his back as he fled.
The other villagers muttered, a low chorus of frightened voices. Bevan worried that more of them might flee, not that they would have been of much use in battle anyway.
The piercing call of a horn carried over the field, loud and clear against the rain and the thunder. The Orcs were declaring a charge. The Paladins braced, driving their metal boots into the mud for leverage and calling their readiness down the line. Lightning flashed again, and the horde of Orcs rolled down the hill like a tide, a mass of tainted metal and cruel, hooked weapons. Their roar conveyed a lust for battle that shook Bevan to his bones, but he stood ready to meet them, confident in his blessed armor and his righteous purpose.
“We will hold this village,” the standard bearer called, his voice rising over the storm, “or we will meet on the shores of Paradise!”
The knights yelled their approval, their voices echoing through Bevan’s hollow helmet and filling his heart with the warmth of courage.
The Orcs covered the ground quickly, growing in size as they approached the waiting Paladins. They had looked large in the distance, but as they drew closer Bevan could truly appreciate their sheer mass. If they were to impact the line at full speed, throwing all of their weight into the charge, would the knights hold? Of course they would hold, for their purpose was a righteous one, remember the scriptures Bevan, have faith.
The beasts came into range, raising their brutish weapons above their heads, swords like giant fish hooks, machetes, cleavers, war axes and maces, tools designed to butcher, not to dispatch their enemies with any dignity or grace. Their armor was made up of heavy, thick plates of iron, stitched together with leather straps and decorated with fur and bones. Crude, but the sheer weight that the Orcs were capable of carrying without being overburdened made it effective.
Religious fervor overcoming his fear of mortality, Bevan angled his spear down, ready to intercept the charging monsters. The Orcs impacted the line of shields like a wave crashing against the rocks. The Paladins were pushed back, their boots failing to find purchase in the slippery mud, but they held steady, their spears seeking out spaces in the Orc’s thick armor and thrusting deep into their flesh. Some were felled, others merely angered, and as more Orcs piled into the fray from behind, the line began to bend under their weight. Powerful blows from hammers and machetes reverberated through Bevan’s shield, and he gritted his teeth against the vibrations as they pummeled his arm. He jabbed with his spear, but it glanced off their thick armor, and as he pulled it back in for another attempt, it was yanked out of his hand. He fumbled for the scabbard on his belt, drawing his short sword and readying it.
They broke through down the line to his right, the piles of enraged Orcs overcoming the knights. One Paladin fell back, knocked down by a blow to his shield from a massive war hammer wielded by an especially large specimen, who finished him off in the mud with a bone crushing crunch as its fellows swarmed through the breach.
“Draw swords!” The standard bearer called out, skewering an Orc from horseback with his long spear. They were not routed yet, and the knights drew back, regrouping and unsheathing their swords. Combat was joined, and their bright blades flashed in the night, as if they wielded the very moonbeams themselves as a weapon, biting into orc flesh. Bevan was high on adrenaline, seeing the world as if in slow motion as he parried a blow from a cleaver with his shield and drove his blade into the unprotected throat of his assailant. It slumped to the ground, gushing black blood.
The standard bearer charged at the massive Orc who had broken the line, his spear level, aimed at its head. The Orc let out a terrible roar, and swung its enormous hammer into the horse’s chest. Both horse and rider were knocked to the ground, the standard bearer thrown through the air as his steed belched blood and convulsed in the dirt. Before he could rise to his feet, the honorless horde swarmed him like jackals, hacking him to pieces with their blades and picks. Seeing this, many of the villagers fled rather than face the Orcs in battle, not realizing that it was pointless. They either fought and died here, or would be hunted like wild game, ending their lives as sport for these animals.
The knights were losing ground, for every Orc they brought down, there were three more to take its place, and they made a fighting retreat back towards the village square, hoping that the narrow streets might make the horde more manageable. Half of their company had been killed by the Orcs, and Bevan had to control his panic, muttering curses and hymns as he fought. It didn’t matter if he died tonight, his corporeal form was merely a temporary vessel, playing host to his incorruptible soul. To die in service to the Gods was the fate and ultimate aspiration of all those who walked the path of Paladin. Bevan was young, and had not seen much of the world, but his immortal soul would outlive it.
One of the beasts broke ranks and charged at him, swinging a mace decorated with pointed spikes. Bevan raised his shield in order to parry the blow, but it was too powerful, the massive impact knocking the shield from his arm. It splashed in the mud, its painted white surface, decorated with the eagle symbolic of his order, stained with filth. The Orc brought the mace back around for a second strike, but it was too heavy, too slow. Bevan stepped in, driving his sword into its belly below the armor that protected its chest, and the monster shuddered, dropping its weapon and falling forward. He stepped out of its path as it landed in the mud, face first. Bevan moved to retrieve his shield, but two more Orcs rushed at him and he had to draw back, closing ranks with the remaining knights.
One of the braver villagers made a futile attempt to engage an Orc, swinging his hoe wildly. Bevan whispered a blessing as he was cut down, barely slowing the creature as it advanced. The Paladins reached the outskirts of the small village, and bunched up, using the dirt paths between the houses to funnel the Orcs. The creatures were filled with bloodlust, or maybe just stupid, and charged the knights regardless, their progress slowed by this new strategy. Even without a leader to rally them, the Paladins were of a singular mind, their training and experience dictating the best course of action.
Orc bodies piled in the street, but still they came, clambering over the fallen, no pity for the dead and dying. Bevan noticed the large Orc wielding the war hammer, standing a head above the rest as it stared him down. It waved its weapon, seeming to direct the others, what were they doing? He couldn’t see them, they were obscured by other Orcs and the buildings around them. He was distracted as another one of the beasts swung at him with a machete, he countered it with his steel sword, knocking the creature off balance and slicing through its thigh. He had expected it to fall to a knee, so that he might cleave off its loathsome head, but it endured the pain, turning to strike him with its clenched fist. Bevan’s helmet rang like a bell, and he fell back into the dirt, dazed and disoriented. Through bleary eyes he saw the Orc raise its machete over him, but it was stabbed through the ribs as a spear found the joint in its armor. The Paladin grasped him firmly by the hand, and pulled him to his feet, thrusting his sword back into his gauntlets.
“Keep fighting! The Divines are with us!”
Bevan shook his head, trying to clear his mind as the chaos continued around him. He returned to the line, the strategy seemingly working. When their numbers were limited by the confined space, the Orcs were unable to best the Paladins, they were consistently out-fought as they stacked up, filling the street with a clamoring, clanking mob.
Suddenly he noticed orcs moving to his right, they had gone around the building and were charging through a side street. The Paladins moved to block it, weathering the assault as the greenskins pushed against them. To the left too, they were being surrounded. The knights were being stretched too thin, and they only had one exit, the southern road behind them. If the Orcs circled all the way around the village, they would find themselves trapped. He slashed at an Orc, his blade glancing off its armor. One of the knights to his left was pulled forward and into the crowd, they trampled him underfoot and cut him apart, his screams abruptly silenced.
Bevan heard clashing metal behind him, his worst fears realized as the Orcs raced down the street to their rear and into the waiting Paladins who had turned to face them. The four defensive lines were buckling, there just weren’t enough of them to hold back the horde. Another Paladin fell, and another, with only a handful left standing they were in danger of being overrun.
“Into the houses!” One of them called, and Bevan turned to see him kicking in a wooden door. Before he could break it down, the left flank caved, and Orcs swarmed into the town square. Assailed from both sides, the knights fell into chaos, swinging and thrusting in all directions, trapped in a brutal melee. One after another they were brought down, their pristine, white armor now soaked with filth and blood. Bevan warded off a blow from one of the hooked swords and met its wielder with a stab to the gut, it fell screeching. He ducked under a swinging mace and drove his sword up through the chin of another. As he yanked his blade free, he noticed the battle around him had come to a standstill. His comrades were dead or dying, and the Orcs were moving away from him, clearing a circle as if they were afraid of him. Was his faith in the Divines rewarded? Had some miracle of heaven come down to drive the beasts off and save his life?
No, they weren’t afraid of him, they were afraid of the massive Orc with the hammer, who was barking at the rabble in their ugly, guttural tongue as it walked towards him, the massive weapon resting across its broad shoulders. This one had to be the leader, the only thing Orcs respected was strength and fighting prowess, and none could be stronger. The crowd parted to let it pass, and it stood before him, towering over Bevan as he raised his sword, defiant. In his mind he was already long dead, his fate sealed, what mattered now was how he met his end, and if it would please the Gods. The creature watched him curiously, its helmeted head cocked.
“I am Bevan, son of Henwas, and I am not afraid of you.”
The Orc chuckled, its crude armor bouncing on its massive frame. Did it understand him? It raised a hand to its helmet and pulled it loose, dropping it into the mud with a wet splash. It shook its hair free, long and as black as the night. It peered down at him with yellow eyes embedded in its dark green face, its features somehow less brutish than he had predicted, oddly feminine. Was it a female? Its two tusks, like those of a wild boar, protruded over its lips and it opened its mouth, speaking his language with an odd, halting accent. Its voice was deep, but unmistakably that of a woman.
“Well Bevan, son of Henwas, what will ye do now?”
The other Orcs kept their distance, watching eagerly, waiting for his response.
“You might succeed in taking this town, devil, but we will be rewarded in the afterlife for standing against you. What will be your reward for the paltry spoils you take from this village? A handful of slaves, unfit for sale? Barely enough gold to feed yourselves for a day? The Paladins have cost you dearly, you shan’t profit from this raid.”
“Aye, ye have cost me.” She replied, appraising the piles of dead Orcs blocking the streets. “Quite a pain in my arse, hitting me in the wallet. Orcs win the day though, all yer friends are fucked.”
“My comrades wait for me on the shores of Paradise. I intend to join them, now have at you!”
He took a fighting stance, pointing the tip of his short sword at her.
She grinned and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, dropping the hammer heavily from her shoulders. She began to walk around the limits of the circle the Orcs had formed, spinning the war hammer in her hands. Bevan followed suit, it seemed that the Orcs would not touch him for the duration of the duel. He doubted he could beat her, but it would be a glorious end. He dispelled the fear of pain and death, singing a hymn as she watched him.
“Songs won’t help ye now, boy.” He continued the song, advancing towards her. “Yer Gods aren’t here, look around ye.”
He moved in and lunged, striking at her with his sword, but she parried it easily with the handle of her weapon, knocking him off balance. She hooked the head of the mighty hammer under his foot and pulled, sending him crashing to the ground. She continued to circle, allowing him to get back on his feet and steady himself as the horde of Orcs laughed and jeered. She was toying with him.
“Ye think ye got nothin’ left to lose? Ye got plenty to lose, kid.”
He ignored her, controlling his breathing, trying to remain calm as he prepared his next attack. He dashed forward, but it was a feint, and as she moved to parry it, he ducked under her outstretched arms and aimed a thrust at her belly. Instead her knee met him in the gut, her massive limb lifting him clear off the ground and dropping him back into the mud. He rose to his knees, his emptied lungs gasping for air. This time she did not allow him to stand again, and instead caught his head with the hammer’s long handle, the powerful swipe denting his helmet and knocking him on his side. His ears rang, and as he tried to push himself up, he felt a boot connect with his ribs. He rolled over onto his back, his body failing him and his consciousness threatening to fizzle out.
The Orc loomed over him, crouching so that her face was mere inches above his visor.
“Ye still got somethin’ left for me to take. I deny ye death, ye zealous fuck.”
Bevan blacked out.
He awoke to vibrations, the sound of cart wheels, clanking metal and snorting horses. He raised his head gingerly, he was lying down in some kind of metal cage strewn with straw, all of his armor had been removed, leaving him wearing only his undershirt and leggings. He was on a cart, and it was moving, trees on either side of the road passed him by at a snail’s pace. His head pounded, and he cradled it in his hands, shutting his eyes against the lingering pain.
He started as a metallic clang rang through the cage, jumping out of his skin. An Orc ran its machete across the bars, laughing at him as it kept pace with the cart. Where were they going? Why had they not killed him? Anger and indignation flared, why had he been denied his glorious death?
“Good mornin’ sleepyhead.” The big Orc walked alongside the cart, a smirk on her face as she looked him over. “Ye get a good night’s rest?”
He scowled at her, rubbing his head.
“What do you want with me, creature?” He spat. “Trying to recoup some of your losses by selling me to pirates?”
“Nah, I got other plans in store for ye.”
She leered menacingly and Bevan recoiled a little. Were they going to torture him? Eat him? Use his pure blood in some evil ritual? His fate uncertain, he rested his arms on his knees and stared out past the bars of his cage at the passing scenery. They had traveled a ways from the village, that much was sure, and his order would assume he had been slain along with his brothers, there was no help coming for him now. He would have to formulate his own escape plan. Orcs were stupid, that much was known to mankind, and eventually they would make a mistake that he might take advantage of, it was just a matter of biding his time.
“Well don’t go all quiet on me, boy,” the Orc chided. “Keep talkin’ yer Paladin shit, it’ll make this walk less borin’ for me.”
“Paladin shit?” He replied sarcastically.
“Aye, Paladin shit, ‘oh I’m a big strong Paladin and I ain’t afraid of ye, I say, ‘ave at ye, en garde and so forth’, brings me no end of joy to watch ye fall over yerself, ye little idiot. How old are ye anyway? Ye don’t look to be more than a boy.”
“I’m not a boy, I’m a Paladin. As soon as I turned seventeen I joined the order to do my duty and slay monsters like you.”
“Aye, and how long ago was that then?”
“If you must know, about a year.”
“So ye are a bloody kid then?” She smirked as his face turned red and he started to fume.
“Well a ‘kid’ slew at least ten of yours, so what does that say about Orcs?”
“That ye ain’t as smart as ye think ye are. I had that town scoped out before ye even arrived, I knew that if I threw enough Orcs at ye, ye’d retreat into the town square. All I had to do was make sure we killed enough of ye before that happened so that ye couldn’t cover all the streets. So what happened, brave little Paladin? Ye got overrun, ye were fucked from the moment ye set out.”
That startled him, and he stared at his bare feet. Orcs were not supposed to be strategists, all of the books in the library back at the monastery described them as thoughtless beasts who roamed in hordes and attacked targets of opportunity. Rather than simply being overwhelmed by violent animals, the Paladins had been outmaneuvered. It didn’t make sense.
“Don’t look so glum, boy. Why dwell on the past when ye have so much to look forward to?”
He shot her a dirty look, and she laughed at him, exposing her serrated tusks.
“I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun together, Paladin. What’s yer name, anyway?”
“You may call me Paladin, or Sir Knight, Orc.”
She grinned, wiping her discolored lips with the back of her hand.
“I think I’ll just keep callin’ ye ‘boy’, seen as you like it so much.”
Bevan lay back in the straw and watched the clouds pass overhead, trying to ignore the Orc’s taunting. He closed his eyes and started to sing a hymn, a plea of divine protection in the old tongue. The Orc listened in silence for a while, perhaps enjoying the tune as she walked, her armor clanking and rustling. The other Orcs seemed indifferent, uncommunicative, they marched in no recognizable formation and payed no attention to the conversation or the songs. After a while she interrupted him, breaking his meditations.
“So what does that song mean? Is it a prayer?”
“Yes, the twelfth sermon of divine mercy, a call for protection against evil and a blessing of purification.”
“Ye say that as if I should be concerned. Are yer gods going to strike me down where I walk?”
“The Gods do as they will, mortal men cannot command them, nor beg favors, I merely purify my soul in preparation for whatever their plans for me may be. I accept my fate, whatever they have chosen. Clearly my trials are not over yet, and I have more to accomplish before I can meet my brothers in Paradise.”
The Orc glanced at him, less snark now and more ... pity?
“Why are ye so quick to throw yer life away? How can ye be ready to die if ye haven’t lived yet?”
“This world is fleeting, Orc, though I wouldn’t expect an evil creature like you to understand the divine. Materialism is an illusion, a distraction. You cannot buy your way into heaven with the gold you steal from these poor villagers, and you cannot bribe the Gods for their favor. Your body will die one day, but your soul will live forever.”
“Aye, I’ll die one day, but isn’t that all the more reason to enjoy meself while I can?”
“The pleasures of this world are base and ephemeral.”
“Says the boy who hasn’t spent a day outside his monastery since he came of age.”
“That’s not true,” he snapped, annoyed. “I’ve traveled plenty, I’ve seen much of the kingdom, and what I haven’t seen I’ve learned in the library.”
“Have ye ever lain with a woman? Gotten drunk in a tavern and fought yer friends? Done anythin’ for yerself that yer parents or yer Paladins didn’t arrange for ye?”
Bevan reddened and turned away, staring out at the withered trees that passed by the cart.
“Aye, I thought as much. I pity ye religious types, yer gods give ye a whole world to play in, going by yer scriptures there’s nothin’ here they didn’t invent. Have ye considered they made loose wenches and tall mugs of frothin’ mead for yer own benefit? Hell, they gave ye a cock and two hands, then told ye not to play with ‘em, like givin’ ye flint and kindling and tellin’ ye not to make a fire.”
Bevan’s face burned, and he began to sing another hymn in order to block out her obscenities. The Orc shrugged, her heavy boots sinking into the muddy road.
“Ye can’t just block out things ye don’t want to hear, kid.”
They marched for hours, their destination unknown to Bevan as the cart trundled through mud and potholes, bouncing and shuddering. The sun began to get low in the sky, and there was still no settlement in sight, nowhere to take shelter, nothing but empty fields and patches of woodland. At least the previous night’s rain had passed them by, but it had left the earth wet and slippery, even the horse struggled through the uneven terrain.
The big Orc called out to her soldiers in their crude language, and they turned off the road and into one of the islands of forest that dotted the farmland. The canopy blotted out the waning light of the sun, casting him into darkness inside his cage. The dark trunks of the gnarled old trees passed by the cart as they reached a clearing and came to a halt. Were they stopping here for the night? Camping out in the open air? He prayed that they wouldn’t just leave him exposed to the cold wind over night, but to expect mercy from these beasts was folly.
He watched as the Orcs unloaded heavy packs and rolls of fabric, and after maybe a half hour of activity they had erected a small village of tents, a roaring fire crackling in the center upon which metal pots and pans brewed unfamiliar stews and soups. He hoped that he would not become one of the dishes.
The big Orc walked to the back of the cart and withdrew a large, iron key from a pouch on her belt. She unlocked the door of his cage with a metallic clunk, and Bevan scurried away to the far end. She rolled her eyes and beckoned to him, her fingernails like claws.
“Come on, boy. Ye ain’t going anywhere with no shoes, and we ain’t gonna eat ye.”
Bevan inched towards her warily.
“Man flesh tastes like shit anyway, I prefer pork.” She added with a toothy grin. She laughed as he recoiled. “I’m jokin’ ye big baby, now come out here so I can feed ye. A dead slave is of no use to anyone.”
He didn’t have much of a choice, and so scooted over to her, refusing to take her hand as he dropped unsteadily from the cart, and into the cold, wet mud. He felt the dirt between his toes, and pulled a disgusted face. The Orc laughed at him again, her hands on her hips.
“This way, Sir Knight. Get some stew in ye while its hot.”
She was right, there was no way he could make a break for it in these conditions without any shoes, he’d be too cut and bloody to walk by the time he got out of the forest. Where was his gear? Did they intend to sell it? His stomach gurgled audibly, and suddenly the idea of stew didn’t sound so bad. He followed her to the camp fire and sat down gingerly, still sore and bruised from the beating she had meted out in the village.
There were a few other Orcs milling around the fire, stirring the food as it boiled and chatting in their odd language. Most had removed their armor, and with a start Bevan realized that they were all female. He couldn’t see a single male among them.
“Where are the men?” He asked, looking up at the tall Orc. “Did we kill them all?”
She put a hand to her mouth, chuckling at his confused expression.
“Nah, we had no men, ye think too highly of yer Paladins, boy.”
Bevan scowled and watched the flames dance in the glowing embers.
“This here is my warband. If ye think female Orcs are violent ye ain’t seen males before. Practically fuckin’ feral, I don’t like dealin’ with ‘em, except when the mood takes me, if you know what I mean.” She laughed at his disgust.
“Why am I alive?” He blurted abruptly. She was taken aback, and waited for him to elaborate. “I killed at least a dozen of yours, you killed the rest of my brothers, why spare me? Don’t you hate me?”
“I don’t hate ye, boy. War is business. We attacked ye, ye fought us, that’s the way it goes. If we wanna take what ain’t ours by right, we gotta expect to lose a few soldiers in the process.”
“It’s not business to us,” Bevan snapped, indignation in his tone, “you attack innocent people who have done you no wrong and who can’t defend themselves, kill them, steal everything they own, sell their families into slavery. You’re evil, abhorrent. I hate you and I’ll kill you the first opportunity I get.”
“Now that’s just impolite, do ye want to go back in yer cage?”
He shook his head, crossing his arms and seething.
“It’s just business kid, it ain’t personal. Not like an Orc could get honest work round these parts with yer bloody Paladins marching around tellin’ all and sundry that we’re demons.”
“Are you not?”
The Orc shook her head in exasperation, leaning towards the camp fire in order to spoon soup into a wooden bowl, then handed the steaming brew to him. He took it reluctantly, putting it to his mouth and sipping the hot liquid warily.
“I didn’t kill ye kid, because yer brave, and ye fought me good and fair. If there’s one thing Orcs respect it’s being a brazen little shit and trying to punch above yer weight. Yer only little, and ye weren’t any real threat to me. Don’t make that face, it’s not an insult. Most men woulda begged, and I woulda killed ‘em for it, but ye were good and ready to gut me, and I guess that amused me. Orcs have children too ye know, I’m not about to kill a young man when I could just as easily take him as a slave.”
“Is that my fate then? Slavery?”
She drank deeply from her own bowl, pausing to chew a floating vegetable.
“We’ll see. Dunno how much a scrawny kid like ye would be worth to pirates. Can’t picture ye climbing rigging and swabbing decks. Where the fuck did ye come from anyway? Ye act like ye never seen mud and grime before.”
“A noble house, and I won’t tell you which. I gave up my inheritance and my title when I joined the Paladins, so you won’t get any ransom money for me, I hold no value to my family.”
“Alright, alright, point taken. Now why the fuck would a highborn like yerself give up a life of luxury and leisure to join an order of warrior monks with staves shoved so far up their arses they shit splinters?”
Bevan sipped again, the brew warming his belly and taking the edge off his anger. He allowed himself to relax a little, he was in no immediate danger, not right now. Might as well eat while there was food going, and the conversation could be worse, if he looked past the Orc’s vulgarity.
“I took an interest in the scripture, and came to the conclusion that a comfortable, safe life would hinder my admission into heaven. I took a vow to live and die in service of the Gods in this life, so that I might enjoy their rewards in the next.”
“How noble of ye.” Her tone was sarcastic. “Most people in this world spend their time wishin’ they had a few moments of comfort and safety, but ye were born into it, and ye squandered it.”
“There’s no nobility in a life of luxury,” he snapped.
“And do ye think there’s nobility in war? Look where ye are, boy. Bloody kids think ye know everythin’ don’t ye?”
Bevan took another drink from his bowl, and sulked.
“Ye should consider yerself lucky to be alive, lucky to come across me and not some ugly cunt who’d kill ye for the sport of it. I didn’t put ye in that battle, that was yer own doin’. Maybe yer gods are lookin’ out for ye after all.”
“You should have just killed me...”
“I could kill ye right now if that’s what ye want.”
He shook his head, and picked up a twig, prodding at the orange embers as the flames crackled around the cooking pots.
“I liked ye more when you were talkin’ shit. Yer no fun when yer sulking. Only kids sulk ye know.”
“That’s not true,” he mumbled.
“Oh aye, little kids.”
“I’m not a little kid, I’m a man, I’ve fought in battles.”
“Battles don’t make ye a man, I’ve been in plenty of battles and I didn’t grow no fuckin’ beard. Only one thing’ll do that for ye, and ye ain’t done it yet.”
His face reddened and he turned to look away, a knowing smile spread across the Orc’s lips, she leaned in to whisper in his ear.
“If ye ain’t been with a woman, ye ain’t no man.”
“Ridiculous, all Paladins are celibate. It’s part of the vow we take in service of the gods. There is no force on this earth more corrupting and more likely to lead a noble man astray than ... that.”
“That may be, but there ain’t no force on this earth more likely to change yer perspective on base, earthly matters than a good lay.”
Bevan rose to his feet, placing the bowl down on the ground.
“If you keep up this kind of talk, I will indeed return to my cage.”
“Alright, sit back down you fuckin’ prude.” She placed her large hand on his shoulder and forced him back to a sitting position, her strength was impressive. “Ye ain’t never been curious though? Not even once? Never wondered what all the fuss was about?”
“I took a vow before the Gods, there is purity in virginity, and I will not give in to earthly temptations. To do so would dishonor me, and sever my connection with the Divines.”
“So if ye get a taste of heaven in this life, ye can’t go there in the next? Harsh.”
“Fornicators don’t go to heaven.”
“That sounds like somethin’ ye were told, not somethin’ ye believe.”
“Can we please change the subject?”
“Last time I checked, ye were my prisoner. I spared yer life, now let me have some conversation with me supper.” She picked up his bowl and refilled it with a ladle, spooning in chunks of vegetables and herbs, and what might be meat or bread. Despite the offensive line of questioning, Bevan was hungry...
“Fine.” He took the bowl from her and ate, more eagerly now. The Orc watched him with a smile as he wolfed down the stew.
“My name is Gharol, by the way.”
“Bevan,” he admitted, through a mouthful of soup.
“Well there we go, Bevan. Ain’t this more civilized?”
She stood and lifted up her armor, pulling the great mass of dented metal and leather up and over her head. She discarded it on the ground nearby, and sat back down, her ample chest bouncing as it settled, unsupported in her sweat-stained tunic. Her bust was massive, yet had been completely hidden by her thick armor. Bevan caught himself staring at the crack of green-tinted cleavage that peeked out from below her clothing, and looked away quickly. Noticing he was looking, she stretched her arms into the air, yawning and letting her breasts fall heavily as she relaxed.
“Sorry Bevan, am I tempting ye? For a celibate yer certainly eager to cop an eyeful, ye little sneak.” He didn’t reply, electing to stare into the flickering camp fire as he fished for a stray piece of bread with his fingers. Gharol nudged him with her elbow, a smirk on her face.
“Ye can have a look if ye ask me nice like.”
He didn’t reply.
“Oh yer no fun, vows this, gods that, I’m a noble Paladin so I ‘ave to wear a potato sack and only drink rainwater.”
“I’m not wearing a potato sack.”
“I know, I undressed ye.”
Bevan coughed into his soup, and she laughed at him, slapping her armored knee with a heavy hand.
“I ain’t in the habit of strippin’ corpses, but yer armor should fetch a decent price, maybe some nobleman will want it for his girly son.”
“Did you keep me alive just to mock me?”
“Aye, a little bit. I’ll tell ye the truth, young Bevan, it gets mighty fuckin’ boring out here. All we do is eat, sleep and fight. Once ye spend a few years with the same group of people, ye start to get tired of always hearin’ the same lines of conversation. Ye impressed me with yer shit talkin’, and ye got spirit, I like that. I figure ye can provide me with some entertainment until we get back to the port and I can sell all this shite.”
“Doesn’t look like I have a choice...”
“Aye, ye don’t.”
Gharol called to one of her Orcs, and it brought her a wooden mug filled with some kind of frothing liquid. Bevan watched her put it to her lips and take a long draw, eventually pulling away with a gasp and a grin.
“Ah! That’s good mead. Ye want a sip, boy?”
Bevan shook his head, nursing his bowl of soup.
“Oh come on, ye take one sip of beer and yer excommunicated? What petty gods ye have.”
She drank deeply again, licking the froth from her lips with her dark green tongue. Some of the foam spilled down her chin, the mug hindered by her impressive tusks, and fell onto her chest, slipping wetly between her breasts. Bevan tracked it with his eyes, an uncomfortable, unfamiliar sensation rising in his belly. He turned back to the fire as she lowered the mug and opened her eyes again, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Ye don’t know what yer missin’ kid. This is life right here, not yer sermons and scriptures.”
“Why must you try to tempt me,” he asked, “is it not enough that you defeated me in battle and took me captive? You denied me my rightful death and now you want to take away my piety too?”
“I just think ye need to live a little, did yer experience at the village not teach ye how precious life is? How fleetin’? If ye don’t try new things now, then when? Ye might be dead tomorrow.”
“I don’t fear death.”
“Aye, but what I’m sayin’ is, ye should. Ye think yer ready for the next life because ye followed a bunch of rules from some musty old books, not because ye had yer fill of earthly life. Now tell me, are ye gods gonna condemn yer soul to eternal torment because ye took a swig of mead?”
He thought for a moment, staring into the flames as they licked at the cooking pots and the stew bubbled, steam rising into the night air.
“That’s more like it!” She laughed, and thrust the mug into his hands. He sniffed at it, the smell of honey filling his nose. He pressed the lip of the mug to his mouth, and took a slow sip. It burned his tongue like fire, and he coughed, sputtering and hacking as Gharol took the mug back from him, doubling over as she watched the tears pour from his eyes. She composed herself as he shoveled soup into his mouth, trying to drive off the taste.
“Hey, nobody said ye’d like every new thing ye tried, but it’s a start.” She patted him on the back, almost knocking him out of his seat. “Now ye can say ye tried mead, that’s one thing crossed off the list.” She wrapped her massive arm around him, pulling him closer to her, pressing his face up against the side of her breast, the fabric of her tunic scratching his cheek. He struggled but she held him, her green bicep bulging. She smelled sweaty, musky, but not unpleasant. There was something to her scent that tickled at the back of his brain, nagging at him, distracting him.
“Come on kid, let’s put the past behind us and be friends, eh?”