Cheers from the battlements echoed around the hills as the flag bearer came into view over the distant rise, armour glinting in the full moon. Sylva Ironhocks waved the banner in greeting and spurred forwards, ahead of the main force.
As she rode into the courtyard to the creak of the opening gates, she sought around for the orc she was to deliver the King’s message to.
He pushed through the tribe and knocked her sideways with a blow to the shoulder.
She laughed and knocked him back into the crowd, “Abehg! I bring the King’s greetings and a message! Raiding was a success, we return with many riches with which to trade and build further. But the richest jewel of all accompanies our King! His wife to be approaches, with the remains of her own tribe. They will become one with us, as she becomes our Queen. We are to prepare for a feast in three days time, where they will wed, and our tribe will grow even stronger!”
“Hah! The King finally found himself an heir-bearer. Excellent!” Abehg replied. “And such a wedding feast we will throw!”
Sylva motioned for Abehg to step aside, lowering her voice, “I fear for this wedding, Abehg. The bride is not what you are expecting. She is Bindrk Thrice-Gored, a warrior, true, and mighty, but human, and with no plans to sit and mother babes when there is fighting to be done. I fear the humans will bring war to us over this, they are unreasonable as ever, and fought us, calling us kidnappers, even as she voluntarily joined our army.”
“And when the humans war, it spills out to everyone. It always does. And we orcs always suffer the most wrath,” Abehg growled, clenching his fist. “Step back when the King arrives, Sylva. I will challenge him.”
Sylva nodded and melted into the waiting crowd.
Soon enough, King Redtusk arrived with the rest of his army, orcs of varying colours, dotted with pale human faces. At his side sat a human whose face and neck were deeply scarred, and who looked around fiercely, as if their walled city were hers by right.
Redtusk slid off his horse, raced to the central speaking area in the agora, and leapt onto a platform to address his people. Bindrk followed, standing next to him as he spoke into the grumbles.
“I see you have noticed my bride! Yes she is human but see her scars. Thrice-gored is her name, from a battle in her youth where she fought a rabid dire boar to its doom, to protect her village. The other humans you see are all that remains of her tribe, and you will welcome both her, and them, as if they were our own, because they now are! I will wed my love in three days, and we will feast. Then we will trade our riches for materials to expand our city. We will use the expertise of the humans to farm our own food, and we will make allies of the neighbours that will agree, and destroy those that won’t, replacing them with our own. Change is at hand, my family! I know a human is not the wife you hoped I’d choose, and a warrior at that. There will be time for children, for bearing pure orc and half-breed, and we will use the skills of both of our kind to become even stronger! Trust me, as you always have!”
Abehg gave a loud snort and stepped forward, arms folded, “You bring humans to our tribe and tell us to water ourselves down by breeding? You tell us to make allies and farms? You present a Queen that will give us half-breeds, if she doesn’t die fighting first? You’ve lost your mind, Redtusk! And the humans will not let this go. They will war against us, and others will join! The world will come down on us, and none of them will believe she came here of her own will, not when the excuse to finally wipe us out is so easy.”
The King stepped to the edge of the platform and glared down at Abehg, “I see my second in command enjoyed his power too much. What say you, water-blood?”
Abehg growled and drew his greataxe from the holster on his back, throwing it down on the ground, “I say fight me. Prove yourself worthy and I will follow you. But if my axe, and our Gods, say otherwise, yield or die. I will kill the humans, and we will raid our neighbours until they are nothing but ash!”
The King opened his mouth to speak, but Bindrk leapt from the platform, landing smoothly as she pulled her dual war axes from her waist, “Your problem is with me and mine? So be it. Fight me. I have never hid behind any man, and I won’t start now.” She looked him up and down, her lip curling in a sneer, “Tell me your name, so I may shout it to your Gods and mine as I apologise for the pathetic sacrifice I’m about to offer.”
“I am Abehg of the Bloodstained Axe,” he picked up his greataxe and proudly showed off the stains of blood along the leather-wrapped handle, the blade gleaming in the moonlight. “And I will send you to your tiny human gods in pieces.”
Abehg charged with a bellow, his axe raised high over his right shoulder.
Bindrk laughed as she sidestepped his charge, deftly slapping him on the rear with the flat of one of her blades.
Stumbling, Abehg caught himself on the platform by the King’s feet and spun around. He circled, growling through his tusks.
Bindrk smiled and bared her teeth at him, doing a two-step jig and twirling her axes by their handles, “C’mon boy, you can do better than that.”
Being called ‘boy’ by a human did exactly what it was intended to do. Abehg’s mind clouded with rage and he lowered his head for a second charge, aiming his shoulder at Bindrk’s stomach.
She stepped aside again, this time lashing out with a foot to send him face first into the dirt floor, “Yield, Abehg. One chance. Yield.”
Abehg spat dust and blood, and leapt to his feet, his judgement entirely erased.
As he put all of his strength into a dive, hoping to bring Bindrk down where he could use his orc strength and size to gain leverage, she narrowed her eyes, dropped her left axe, grasped at his collar, and swung him headfirst into the stone wall surrounding the speaking area. As he rebounded, his skull crushed, she swept up with her right axe, and took off his head on the downswing.
As promised, she then held his head high, and spoke, “Gods both orc and human, I send to you Abehg of the Bloodstained axe. A traitor to his own King, and a pathetic morsel for your greatness. I swear I will find a better sacrifice once I am wed, to bring both pantheons together. But for now please accept this worm as a token of my fealty.”
She turned to the King, kicking the body over to the platform and then leaping up and placing the head at his feet. She tore open the front of his tunic and placed a bloody handprint in the centre of his chest, then smeared more blood across her face, grasped the single plaited loc at the back of his head, and kissed him roughly.
First the humans, then the orcs, broke out into cheers, and soon both tribes were slapping each other on the back in greeting.
Sylva stepped into the empty space by the body, “What of Abehg, my King and Queen? And the war that surely comes?”
The King grasped Bindrk firmly by her rump before letting go and releasing himself from her lips, “As to war? Let them come. We built this place to hold firm, and we can persuade them by blood and word that my Queen is here by her own choice. I have faith in our mixed tribes, in myself, and in my Queen, as should you. As to Abehg…”
The King grabbed the head and threw it to an orc wearing a leather apron, “I wish this to be made into a lamp, for our bedroom.”
“But his body will be separated from his head in the afterlife!” Sylva exclaimed, “How will he fight? How will he earn us honour?”
Redtusk jumped down and kicked the headless body, “He can serve as a footrest for a tired warrior, perhaps. Or a table for a cold ale!”
Laughter echoed around the agora.
“And before I die, I will burn his head and reunite it with his body, so on my arrival he can bend his knee and apologise for his foolishness.”
The laughter continued, and Bindrk stepped down to speak in Redtusk’s ear, “Unless you wish this to happen before all of our people, my love, take me to the castle, and show me where I might do whatever I please to you.”
Redtusk grinned and pointed to a nearby human and orc, “You two, Alas of Greythorn and Pariba Wolfsfriend. I appoint you both second in command. We will require one of each to ensure our tribes gel together. Keep the peace. Find all a bed and a job. Begin plans for a feast and a siege. We will call for you both tomorrow.”
Orders given, they left their tribe to plan the feast, clear up the body, and settle into getting used to each other. The road was being built, the journey just begun, but it would lead them to greatness. Together.
Behind them, in the agora, Sylva smiled. That wasn’t quite what she had expected, but it would do.
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