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The Orcmar Shorts

"Labor"

It was the deep, chilly pre-dawn dark of early spring, and the great white moon was setting in the western sky. Orcmar was silent, and had been for nearly a day and a half: the Shadow Council had imposed curfew on the rioting city, and in rational self-interest, the rioting city had obeyed.

Curls of smoke still drifted up from the slum canyons. Down in them, hungry families and wild-eyed gangs huddled the night away in doors, afraid to fall asleep in case the rioting started up again, or bored, restless, waiting for word to go out that the curfew had lifted.

In a wide, oblong, sandstone room, built into a cliff in one of the canyons, lay seven orcs, in various stages of sleep. A bulb dangled from the ceiling, casting a dim light over the room.

The back wall of the small room was made of rough sandstone, and a word, “HORSE,” in Common, was scrawled across it in red paint. Under the word sat a single, awake, olive-green young orc named Reltir. His eyes drooped. In his lap was a folded, burlap blanket.

From behind the mud-brick wall came a sudden shuffling, followed by a muffled shout. Reltir snapped alert, his eyes flickering with excitement. He rolled over, poking the thicker and darker-skinned orc that lay asleep to his right, next to a bucket of crusty mortar and a mortar blade. The other grunted, shaking his head blearily and bearing his teeth at Reltir. Reltir nodded his head towards the mud-brick wall, and the other orc’s snarl turned to a toothy grin.

Reltir rolled back and sat up, listening at the wall. There was more shuffling, then the sound of something rubbing over the wall, then scraping at it. The orc smiled. Then, for a moment, behind the wall was silent.

Without warning, something enormously heavy impacted the wall, sending loose mortar dust cascading down and away. Reltir grabbed the burlap blanket and scrambled to his feet, backing away, a look of alarm on his face. The other orcs looked over, alarmed as well.

There was the sound of hooves scraping against stone, and then the wall shook again. Long cracks appeared, running between the bricks. The orcs flinched, and began getting warily to their feet. The biggest, broadest orc, the leader, looked impassive – he smiled lightly, and in the silence that followed the second impact, he began chanting the red word painted on the cracking wall: “Horse, Horse, Horse,” he chanted, quietly at first, and the wall shook again. The others began joining him, and the chorus of husky orc voices crescendoed – “Horse! Horse! Horse!” – and then with a yell the rough mud-brick wall with the word scrawled across it in red burst asunder in a shower of mud-bricks and mortar dust, and coming to a halt in the midst of the rubble, with nostrils flared and fire in his eyes and completely naked, stood Horse the Bull. The orcs cheered wildly.

“What the hell is this about?” he yelled, snorting, at no one in particular.

Reltir stepped forward to Horse and bowed. “That was ridiculous,” he said admiringly. He handed the burlap blanket to the bull, who accepted it dumbly and wrapped it around his waist. The blanket had a green hand painted on it, with a red slash across its palm.

Relkir continued, more formally: “Horse,” he said, “you have woken up in the cold womb of your new life, and with strength and cunning –”

“Mostly strength!” piped up one of the others, and the orcs laughed.

“…and with strength,” continued Reltir, “you have birthed yourself into the light, into your new life as a soldier of Thrall’s Revenge. My name is Reltir, and I am Thrall’s soldier. This,” and he turned to the orc whom he had awoken before, “is Kalga.” Horse looked about, the fury on his face fading to bemusement. He smiled uncertainly.

Kalga stepped forward, holding the bucket of mortar and bowed. “I am Kalga, and I am Thrall’s soldier. You are Horse: a babe in swaddling clothes. Thrall’s babe, and Thrall’s swaddling clothes. Your task now,” and the orc paused. “Well, your task is to rebuild the wall you just destroyed. That’s a lot bigger of a task than it usually is.” The other orcs laughed.

“I don’t get it,” said the bull.

Kalga grinned and pointed, past the rubble and through the gaping hole in the wall. Against the far wall of the small chamber behind it lay a candle, a match, and a small knife. “The idea of the stone womb is to seal you in despair until you find the tools.  You're supposed to cut your way out, a brick at a time,” said the orc. “Took me all day, when I did it.”  He handed the bucket over.  “Didn’t take me as long to rebuild, it, though.”  He smirked.

The young bull accepted the mortar.  He looked down at the pile of rubble, then back at the wall he had demolished. He turned around.

“Can I get some breakfast?” he said, a little petulantly. “I’m hungry.”

“Breakfast is for the weak,” growled the tallest, broadest orc, the leader.

The bull sighed, then knelt and began pulling rough mud-bricks out of the rubble.


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