Inheritance part 1
Inheritance     Bluefoot sat on the canvas covered cargo in the middle wagon. Most dwarves didn’t favor horses, and he was no exception. He shifted, trying to get comfortable, and scanned the horizon to the left of the merchant caravan. High green grass grew along the plain, dotted with purple bull thistles. Firewheel, the only other dwarf in the group, kept watch on the right from atop a horse; he’d spent entirely too much time with the humans. Flies buzzed around the animals.

     Bluefoot didn’t care one whit what the other mercenaries were doing. He’d never trust them on any job. Curren and Max, the two human merchants who’d hired him on Firewheel’s recommendation, sat in the front wagon. Bluefoot’s body rocked with the motion of the wagon on the dirt lane. Leather creaked from the reigns. Hoofs beat against the trail.  

     After the midday stop, Curren’s daughter, Emma, climbed into the middle wagon near Bluefoot. He didn’t care for wee-ones either, and expected an annoying afternoon. But the girl was quiet for a long time. Just when Bluefoot thought the situation tolerable, she talked.

     “We might shift the load tomorrow, to make up for our weight. I’ve counted all the crates and sacks twice this morning, and I know what to move.”

     Bluefoot grunted, but didn’t look at her. How much did she think the two of them weighed, anyway?

     “A merchant has to know these things.”

     “Taken up your daddy’s profession then?” He gave her a quick glance. “I suppose you’re old enough.”

     “I turned nine last December.”

     He scanned the distant trees. The gap between the woods and the road was closing.

     “You’re not much like Firewheel,” Emma said. “He talks alot.” She scooted closer and reached out to feel the axe strapped to his side. 

     “Don’t go touching that, girl.”

     “It looks old.”

     “It is old,” he said.

     “Can’t you afford a new one?”

     “I don’t see what business it is of yours.”

     “Daddy pays well. That’s what Firewheel says. You can get a new one when we get to the city.”

     He caressed the hilt of his one handed axe. “It’s a family heirloom.” Bluefoot inherited his name and the barbarian axe from his uncle. Most of his family were brewers, and frowned on his decision to train as a warrior. But Uncle Bluefoot never lectured him on the sins of abandoning the family tradition. Rather, he’d encouraged him. Their eyes gleamed as together, they’d dreamed of adventure in the wilds, far from the farmlands.

     His uncle was gone now, died falling off a ladder. The family would never forgive him of it. They’d prefer he died from a flu or a fever. Bluefoot smiled. His uncle must be laughing in his grave, glad he left them one last little thorn to prick their sensibilities.

     “What’s an heirloom?” the girl asked.

     “Something passed down in the family.” The weapon was well crafted, despite not being of dwarven make. Bluefoot didn’t have the heart to melt it down or store it in some dusty box. He’d refitted the axe with a new handle. A rune marked the back of the weapon, a reflection of its name, Blood Reaver. He didn’t know of any magical properties, and the epic stories his uncle told didn’t include the axe. The metal was special though; it rarely dulled and the cutting edge was a lighter color than the whole. 

     “I have a heirloom too.” She held up a locket that hung from her neck, then tucked it under her dress. “It was my mother’s.”

     He grunted. Firewheel had mentioned the girl’s mother died some time ago. 

     “Your axe seems small, like it was made for dwarves, though Firewheel carries a pretty big hammer. Do dwarves like big or small weapons?”

     He frowned. “I’m not fond of children, even when they’re quiet.”

     “Oh.” She moved away, towards the left edge of the wagon.

     At least she wasn’t stupid, and that was something in her favor. If she let him be, they’d get along fine. 

     “Besides, we’re bound to hit trouble. I’ve to keep my attention on the watch.” He glanced at her, but she was turned away. He didn’t care if he’d bruised her feelings. It wasn’t his business if humans brought their females out into danger. Careless people. He wasn’t getting paid to make nice. Letting go of the axe, he crossed his arms.

     Firewheel rode around the wagons and pulled up beside him. “Scout’s back. He says it’s all clear ahead.”

     “That isn’t good.”

     “I know.” Firewheel looked thoughtful. He was small in the oversized saddle. “And not just because I like a good fight. We usually run into a small band of something by now. Stalkers, saurian, thieves.”

     “I don’t like it.”

     “Maybe it will be a quiet run, easy money.” Firewheel smiled.

     “I don’t like easy money.”

     “That’s why I recommended you.” He grinned, then pulled away and went back to watch the left.   

     The merchants were an odd pair. Bluefoot couldn’t see Curren and Max’s faces in the front wagon, but he imagined Curren napping from his posture. Max, an odd curiosity, even for a human, wore a funny looking orange hat, too big for his head. It looked more like a jester’s hat rather than a merchant’s. Curren may have been the only one to tease Max about it to his face, but the mercenaries weren’t too quiet behind his back. The merchant took it all with a toothy grin. 

     Something about his posture bothered Bluefoot. Max seemed tense, rigid in his seat. At times he shifted and wriggled, quickly glancing side to side. Bluefoot wanted to dismiss it as eccentric, but it nagged at the back of his mind.

     Lost in his thoughts, Bluefoot imagined what Morgenberg would be like. It was hard to picture above ground housing. How could anyone feel secure in such a feeble encasement as wood? 

     The sun dipped low in the sky like a beacon calling them to follow. A cool breeze ruffled through Bluefoot’s long hair and beard. He relished the thought of a good nights sleep with fine cold weather. Well, half a night anyway, while Firewheel took watch. The humans would have watches too, but he wouldn’t rely on them. 

     A glimmer in the trees brought his attention back to the present. The second time metal reflected sunlight, he whistled a warning to Firewheel. 

     A horde of orcs burst from the wood and charged the caravan. 

     Bluefoot jumped off the slowing wagon. The human mercenaries called out to each other and the enemy roared. Twenty defenders against about a hundred orcs. One to five weren’t great odds. He held his silver inlayed shield in one hand and Blood Reaver in the other. 

     Curren pushed by, grabbing Emma. The girl shook free and disappeared under the canvas. Curren nodded and turned to the attackers. Bluefoot bristled. Females should be cherished and kept in a protective embrace, like inside a well defended city, not hiding in the middle of a dangerous assault.

     Firewheel’s mouth moved, but his words were lost in the battle-rush. 

     As the orcs reached Bluefoot, he swung Blood Reaver into the nearest. The battle was a blur of motion. Time slowed in that moment. Every movement was precise, like the beat of a drum, as orcs fell to his axe, all entranced in the dance.  

     Rage fed his energy. He reveled in it. The orcs surrounded him, but he had no fear. His facial muscles tightened in a death grimace. Several orcs paused at the sight of it, for the last time. Bluefoot ducked as a blade slashed the air. He felt another whisk by to the right. Lashing out with Blood Reaver, he saw an orc’s eyes widen as he split its face in half. Beyond the circle of melee around Bluefoot, he heard the crackle of flames. The smell of smoke mixed with bloodshed.

     A dagger pierced his welding arm, but it felt like little more than a pinprick. He didn’t stop to pull it out. Sensing a blade sing in the air, he lifted his shield and caught the weapon’s blow. The impact cracked the shield and pushed him backward. He exploded in a fury of strokes, landing a growing pile of dead bloody orcs up to his waist. The smell of their breath was worse than their body odor. His stomach turned as he breathed through his mouth.

     The orcs retreated and he tried to follow, pushing through the mound of dead. Tripping on a loose head, he kicked it into the back of a dead mercenary. He stumbled. It was too late to give chase. The bloody cowards had longer legs. Leaning over, exhausted, he huffed and swore. He looked around for the other mercenaries, but didn’t see any. The last of the orcs escape couldn’t be helped, no matter how much he wanted to finish them off. Bluefoot stomped and swore, using up the last of the battle heat that whispered in his blood. The rage faded.

     It wasn’t until he looked back at the caravan that the impact of the attack set in. The last wagon burned in brilliant yellow and orange flames. The horses were gone, cut lose. Smoke billowed into the darkening sky.

     Dead bodies, mostly orc, littered the ground. Bluefoot checked the nearest, looking for the injured. Orc heads were cut in every angle, many severed at the neck. Bloody weapons lay near hands, where dropped. The beige dirt road was covered in sticky green blood, dotted with spots of bright red. A sword hung out of the middle wagon. Bluefoot inhaled sharply. Emma could have been struck. Then he remembered she hid on the other side. Smart girl.

Continued in part 2

References: Barbarian, Dwarf, Human, Orc, Saurian, Stalker

 
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