I am holding her, but cannot move her. She is too big, I am small, and her clothes and body are wet, making her slippery, with no hand holds. Her eyes open, she does not see me, and she does not move.
She told me the story last night, the same one she told whenever the moon was full and clear, bright in the sky. The one about the boy that cried wolf. It was always told in a boring monologue until she got to the bit where the wolves ripped apart the sheep, where she become animated, hands curled like fangs, and teeth bared. Despite knowing it was coming, this always scared me greatly, and I would only go to sleep after shaking uncontrollably until I wore myself out. I am older now though, and the night terrors caused by her words were fewer and fewer in their occurrences.
Last night was different however, and rather than tuck me in, she told me that I was old enough now, and that I could know the true story it was based on. So I listened intently as she described not a bored sheep watcher, but a proud sentry overlooking a costal sea town. This sentry was not bored nor making practical jokes to pass the time, but was tricked by pirates coming ashore feigning an attack. He would run off and dutifully warn the villagers about the pirate activity, but when he took them back to where he saw the pirates; there was nothing to be seen. No tracks, no boats, no trace of their arrival or passing. He was cursed at, told he was stupid and they all went back to bed. This was repeated as per the boy who cried wolf, and each time, there was nothing to be seen.
Then one day, their scouting missions completed, the pirates came in force, far more than before. When he tried to warn people, they ignored him, did not even bother to check, and only knew the truth when the pirates stormed through the open gates and slaughtered everyone in their path.
The sentry managed to escape, even saving some of the villagers, but the guilt, despite his best efforts, ate away at him, and he hung himself from the tree he used to watch from.
At no time did she become animated as she told this tale; it was all delivered in a slow soft voice, a voice tinged with regret and sadness. Once more, come my time for bed, I was wide awake, frightened to sleep, visualising the slaughter and every creak of the nearby trees through the wind outside made me think of the sentry slowly twisting from his tree.
This meant that I was not asleep when the attack came to our village; I was facing my fears by climbing the tree pretending to be a sentry looking for pirates as any eight year old would do, despite no sea or even large body of water around for miles.
I noticed nothing at first. Too wrapped up in my own adventure with the single-minded focus of the young when faced with something tricky. I am not sure at what moment the realisation came, but it was before the first building was on fire, that much I know. The shapes that came were many, seemingly hundreds, but I know that was not the case. I could do nothing but watch through the branches, watch the shapes in the darkness flit between houses to burn and kill and break and smash people and things.
The attackers made no noise, but that’s not to say there was none – first the confused cries, the panicking of a store owner losing his stock from an accidental fire, before the cries turned to screams when the invaders were seen mutilating everything they saw. Not pirates from the stories, but Orcs, lots of them. The only thing I saw was a banner, a burning white tree on a dark background.
The shock held me in place for a long time. Long enough for me to not notice that it was raining heavily now. I waited until there was no noise, and the rains had washed away the fires and made me cold enough to feel that I might get stuck in this tree, as I could not feel my legs anymore through the coldness.
I struggle to move my limbs, twitch my foot, move my knee, but now the leg is extended. I stretch both legs, and drop silently from the tree, crouching low. No noise does not mean no danger.
The rains and mud and fire and breakage have fused together to make a hissing blackened mass, and I scurry past the bare arm or leg that protrudes from rubble while wildly skirting round bodies openly on the floor. Nothing is alive in this place I once knew as home.
I find our hut, and looking through the wreckage, I find her, and sit with her, and wait, not knowing what to do.
That was a long time ago. Now I have been a man of my village for nearly 5 years, and am almost 18 years of age. I hunt and forage now for the survivors of the attack…..almost a dozen years ago, and our group is stronger and larger than it was before, gathering other groups to us, along with increased training and awareness.
This does not mean we have not been attacked again though. Small skirmish bands of Orcs have been sighted multiple times in the last year alone, and we fought off one such lot recently. No losses thankfully, just minimal injuries despite them attacking during a festival. There was a problem though - at least one of them escaped during that attack despite our best tracking efforts, meaning they know where we are. We waited for a return attack, but as hours stretched into days into weeks, our constant watching was not sustainable at that level, and we returned to normal watches.
And now I hunt again. The attack was nearly four weeks ago, and we have seen nothing, with the elders hoping that the lack of raiding parties is due to their “…..obvious losses to the brave warriors of the tribe…” and that they must be “…fleeing in other directions for easier sport!”
I don’t agree, and still urge for extra watches, but cannot be there all the time. Now I am far from home, that old hunter’s adage of never hunting too close to home in case you need easier game, through injury or heavy weather. Add to this the Orcs roaming patterns, and in increased numbers, meaning game is scarce and so my journey out and back is longer.
And that’s when I come across them. A hunting party hunkered low, but talking too loudly. I wonder at my skills sometimes; I can spot spore a good distance away, yet heavily armoured orc tracks blend into the bushes like a tigers stripes in the trees. It matters not that I now see the broken branches and flattened grass after the fact, but I am pleased that their lack of discipline through raised voices has now saved my life.
Hunkering down, I listen, and pick up a few words, my facial expression changing as the smattering of Orcish I do know gives me the impression that they are talking about attacking a group of people, but it’s when they say redskins in common that I know who they are talking about.
There is suddenly lots of noise, and they start to mobilise. Thankfully away from me, and like most roaming groups, it takes no time at all for them to be up, ready and moving as one. I tag along behind, thinking I have left enough space between myself and the last of the group ahead of me.
I crash to the ground, hit hard from behind. Dirt showers, a branch in my stomach, vision black as I am forcibly held down. Can’t breathe, push, roll over, sky, dirt, mouth dry, something smashes into my legs. Roll, scramble, fingers dig in the earth, try and stand, I lash out with my fist, where is my weapon? Hit something, not very hard. Trying to move, stand, get cover, hide, anything. Something hits me in the back. My back is wet, legs are weak, dirt and grass, sky, fall forward, something bites me again, shoulder on fire. Fire. Fire. Ears burning, face flush, fire, eyes unfocused, tears streaming, fire, fire, finger pointing, fire, screams; but curiously not mine. Warmth. Moaning. Silence.
The chaos ends. I am kneeling in the dirt, bleeding heavily, an Orc before me that I find myself watching is covered in flames, with just some last slight involuntary writhing that soon stops. He is slumped forwards, face down, arms outstretched, shield in one hand, axe in another. The smell of burning flesh fills my nostrils as the flames flicker along the Orc’s back and the hair of its head.
I look at my hands, think fire, and see the flames build as though kindling has been thrown onto a campfire, a flame leaping and sparking from my fingertips soaring through the air onto the still burning Orc. I groggily stand upright, point at the creature, and summon a flame to strike the Orc again. Take a step, dragging my leg, and flick my fingers forward, smashing fire into the corpse again. And again, and again.
I stand over the very dead Orc, watching the flames die down, and listening for signs of others. It’s quiet apart from the throb in my head pulsing with the jagged wound in my leg that won’t stop bleeding. Tearing my clothing, I expose my leg to see the wound, which is nearly calf to shin in length. Fighting an urge to vomit, I first check it is not broken, and thankfully finding it’s not, fold the flap of skin back together.
I bring forth the fire in my fingers to cauterise the wound, tracing the wound and nearly passing out. My race can take a little off the edge of burning, but not all of it, so it still hurts. My shoulder I leave, and according to how much of my back I can actually reach, it seems less of a wound than the amount of blood indicates, but it still feels large enough. I take a deep breath, bite on my collar, and press the flesh together with burning fingers.
And then pass out.
The inevitable happens. I wake, panic, and I run and run until my lungs burst, but I reach the clearing of my own camp too late. There are many dead on both sides, and there were more of them dead than ours, but there are always more of them.