Draaien and the Ring
Draaien and the Ring     Draaien pushed his way past the other orc boys. The tall one shoved him in return, but let him pass. He didn’t fear any of them, though some, like the tall boy, were older than his ten years. The adults wouldn’t tolerate a fight on the trail, and if any held a grudge, he enjoyed a brawl after the grueling day’s march. His side ached. After stretching his arms, he adjusted the heavy sword strapped to his belt. He was clumsy with it, still new to the art of war. Draaien watched the adults closely, and not just at battle.

     He was meant for great things, and felt it in each beat of his heart. The old orc woman said the same. Time, a restless runner, egged him on to his future glory, of retribution, and of war. The desire pressed upon his soul. It infiltrated every thought, dripped in every breath. He wouldn’t miss his opportunity. Draaien looked for it at every turn. He shadowed the adult males while the other boys held back.

     Three warriors huddled around oozing black mushrooms, the size of grown rabbits. The stalky caps sprang up in the shadow of a large, rotting tree stump. Klaym, the leader, stood out with deep green shoulder-length hair, and his unusual ability to stay levelheaded. His icy yellow eyes held no blood rage in the heat of battle. He positioned himself between the arguing pair.

     “I tell you, this is a sign!” exclaimed Gurfaut. He pushed out his chest, a sign of aggression. His black hair was pulled back in braids. Many necklaces and amulets gleamed in the light, as they rustled on his simple coarse smock when he moved.

     “A sign of stupidity! Go back and march in the tail with the females.” Bingor argued loudly, spittle flying. His hair shook as he spoke, eyes wide and threatening.

     “Hamlec, praise God, will curse you for your blindness!” Gurfaut hissed.

     “Stop! No fighting. You say it’s a sign, Gurfaut. Why?” Klaym intervened as the two reached for weapons. Gurfaut dropped his hand from the hilt, but Bingor clenched his.

     Draaien admired Klaym’s timing.

     “I don’t know.” Gurfaut furrowed his eyebrows, staring at the strange plants.

     “He’s a stupid coward! Stick your hand in the poison and pull out Hamlec’s favor.” Bingor released the hilt of his sword and pounded on his chest before pointing at the dark and sticky plants. His eyes darted to the small crowd, seeking approval.

     Gurfaut glared at Bingor and then Klaym, then back to the other.

     “Do it,” Klaym commanded.

     Draaien moved, finding a better view.

     Gurfaut lightly touched the top of the largest mushroom, then plunged his hand into the purple-black cap. His body went rigid, and then trembled as he pulled back his wet fist. Though his face spasmed with pain, his eyes shined in triumph. He opened his hand to reveal a small silver ring with a green tinged onyx stone peeking out through the noxious liquids of the mushroom.

     Draaien leaned in as close as he dared. The pulse of the ring matched that of his heart, the magic calling his soul. In that instant, he saw himself as an older orc, crying victory while the largest of the human cities fell to ashes before him. The ring was the key to his glory. His fingers trembled.

     “I was right! Thank Ham-“ Gurfaut’s praise fell short as he vomited and pitched forward. His face thudded in the soft dirt of the trail. He gagged. His body jerked its last, the purple and black fist closed over the precious artifact.

     Klaym pushed Gurfaut onto his back with his booted foot.

     “Bingor, take the ring,” Klaym said.

     “No. It’s poisoned!”

     Draaien could restrain himself no longer. Bursting forward, without thought to the dead orc before him, he snatched up the ring in both hands, and held it before his eyes. The deep purple puss smeared on his hands, causing then to tingle, numbing in places. Draaien almost dropped it. Something within it moved. A living ring!

     It moved again, as though the ring connected him to another plane of existence. He felt a light touch on his face. A flash of memory, the ring’s memory, played in his mind. The sky blue eyes of a dying wood elf looked up at him from a battlefield. The face, splotched with blood and dirt, clenched in pain. His skin tore into shreds. Out of the gore, rose an orc, the first orc.

     “Orc Mother…” Draaien whispered.

     He closed his fist over the ring. Draaien stared at the two orcs before him. He didn’t die from touching the ring, and they moved in. He couldn’t let them have it, his future.

     Draaien faked left, ducked, and ran right. He held the ring tightly with one hand, while fumbling with the buckle to his sword belt with the other. Klaym snatched at his shoulder, ripping the worn tunic. The belt came free. The weapon fell onto the forest floor, still resting in its sheath. Draaien ran, darting in and out of the vine-covered trees, faster without the sword’s weight.

     The whole troupe crashed through the forest behind him.

     He must hide the ring from them, in such a way, they couldn’t beat the location from his weak lips. The problem turned in his mind.

     Racing headlong out of the trees, he fell off a steep embankment, and landed on his feet only to slip on the loose soil and grit. Draaien lost his balance and rolled down. His cheek struck against a rock’s sharp edge. He came to a stop as the land leveled off into hard-cracked dirt and sand. It led to a steamy lake.

     He had little time to feel surprised to see Lost Lake, the acid lake created long ago by the God, Din, in his rage. Noxious fumes from the blue-green acid rose and were blown to the shore, killing any plant life that grew too close. Draaien wiped at dark green blood on his cheek, smearing it back near his temple.

     Standing in the parched and burnt earth with little sprouts of yellow weeds scattered about, was a human, a young man. The thing wore a splotchy purple cloak pulled tight around his body, hiding any weapons. A hood lay against his back revealing soft shoulder length brown hair and brooding eyes. At his feet was an empty animal hutch, door ajar.

     Draaien picked himself up. Moving slowly, as though he had endless time, he dusted off his tunic and breeches, eyeing the human. “Are you a slave?” He could think of no other reason for a human to be in naga territory, and alive. The race of snake people were fierce warriors, though not as good as orcs. What they lacked in ability, they made up for in their hatred of humans.

     “No.”

     If this were true, perhaps it was a sign from Hamlec, his destiny at hand. The question remained, could he pass this test? Draaien swallowed.

     “Careful behind you. I’ve been feeding it, but it’s probably still hungry.”

     Draaien glanced back and saw the cave. Claws scraped in the dark hole. He stepped closer to the human, the known enemy always being a safer bet. Growling low in his throat, he took measure of the human and his mocking smile. Why wasn’t the man afraid?

     “It’s a deformed hulk.”

     Draaien thought of the one hulk he’d seen during his training. The large hunched monster, with clawed arms that hung to the ground, had enormous strength and a thick scale hide. It gnashed huge teeth, thrust its tusks forward, and peered at its attackers from four angry eyes. It took seven grown orcs to bring it down, and that was when the orcs had the element of surprise. One died, crushed under a massive fist.

     “Good luck.” The human turned his back on him.

     Anger flared behind Draaien’s eyes, turning the landscape into shades of red. “Hey!” Was the man powerful, or just stupid? “I could kill you.” His hand strayed down to the knife in his boot. The ring throbbed in his fist.

     The man stopped, turned. “What’s that,” he nodded toward Draaien’s closed fist.

     Draaien squeezed the ring tighter, his eyes narrowing into slits. He smiled wide, to be sure the man saw his sharp teeth.

     A crooked smile rose on the human’s lips. “No matter. I’m Ciglio, mage and necromancer to be. See you around, orc boy.” He walked around the lake, in the direction of the naga city.

     Draaien watched the man disappear on the horizon. The ring froze, sending deep cold biting into his hand. He remembered his danger, the danger of losing the precious ring. Turning to the cave, he listened. Smiling, Draaien looked at his cold fist.

     He must take a chance.

     Though he ached with desire to keep it, he knew he’d loose it either way, to his own kind or the cave. Maybe both. At least this way he’d have a chance to posses it again. They won’t kill him without the ring.

     Draaien closed his eyes and threw Orc Mother into the cave’s open maw. It clinked on the stone floor, sending shivers up his spine. He felt alone and helpless without its weight in his hand, the feel of it pressing against his mind. He willed his body to stop shaking.

     Running south, up the sandy slope and into the trees, Draaien stopped counting the turns in the haste. He wanted distance between himself and the ring. Evening fell, and he collapsed. The muscles of his tired legs wouldn’t carry him further. He lay in the leaves and pine needles carpeting the forest floor and waited. Draaien rubbed the palm of his empty hand. They found him, and then the blackness closed in with their fists. In the darkness, he called to Orc Mother, but the ring was gone.

#

     His hands were bound so tightly that he’d little feeling in them. Draaien rolled onto his stomach. Before he could rise, a boot hit his face and sent him back into blackness. He didn’t remember how many times it happened.

     Sunlight pierced his closed eyelids like daggers. He opened them, barely. Swelling and bruises covered his spent and battered body. They’d beaten him while he’d been unconscious. Every movement sent pain shooting through his tender body.

     Klaym stood over him, a dark silhouette in the daylight. “Is it ready?” the leader asked.

     Draaien licked at his dry, cracked lips. He tasted blood. Perhaps they’d kill him after all.

     “Here it is,” Bingor said. “Turn him over.”

     Klaym pushed Draaien roughly onto his back. Bingor knelt down and poured hot liquid into his open mouth.

     He coughed and choked. While in pain from the movement, it didn’t occur to him to spit out the vile fluid. Only after, he realized the mistake of letting it drop back into his dry throat.

     “Where’s the ring?” Klaym demanded. He slapped Draaien across the face.

     “I don’t,” Draaien began. He was stopped with a kick to his side. Pain blurred his vision. He rolled into the blow, drawing up his bound legs, protectively.

     “Can he resist it?” Klaym asked.

     “Not possible,” Bingor spoke from behind. “I’ve seen it work hundreds of times.”

     “Give him more.”

     “You sure?” Bingor asked. “It’s pricey stuff.”

     “Do it!” Klaym yelled.

     Bingor pulled Draaien back and more liquid rushed into his mouth and nose. He coughed, biting his tongue in the process. The fluid burned his windpipe.

     “Where’s the ring?”

     “I threw it, near a lake.” He held the lake’s name in his throat. Draaien feared how much he’d tell because of the potion.

     “What lake?”

     The knowledge loosed itself from his throat and flung out into the light. He couldn’t hold it back. “Lost Lake.”

     “Where’d you throw it?”

     “There’s a thing.” He shook his head hard, but he couldn’t hold back what was in his mind. “A cave.”

     Klaym and Bingor left with a small party, dragging him along.

     He tried to smile, then stopped. It hurt too much. It was in Hamlec’s hands now, his only chance for the future he dreamed.

     They paused at the opening. “Is this the cave?”

     “Yes.” The potion caused his vision to swim and blink, much like the first taste of mead.

     They left him tied on the hard ground when they entered the cave.

     Draaien closed his eyes.

     Screams erupted from the dark hole, followed by shouts and a great roar. Something landed near his head. He opened his eyes. It was the lower half of an orc leg, blood dripping from the jagged end.

     He bit his lip as he lowered his bound hands closer to the knife in his boot. If they’d taken it, he’d rub the rope on the edge of a rock, but that would take longer. He needed to be free before nightfall freed the hulk.

     Every muscle screamed out in rebellion, but he didn’t listen. The pain was worth it, worth everything. The hulk would protect the ring until the day Draaien was strong enough to win it back.

     Orc Mother belonged to him and no other; it was just a matter of time.

References: Draaien, Ciglio, Orc, Human, Elf, Naga, Hulk

 
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