Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2301195-Confessions-along-the-Way
Printer Friendly Page Tell A Friend
No ratings.
Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Fantasy · #2301195
Under the darkness of night, Aljar and Degor learn the truth about the orc mastermind.
“Prove it”, Aljar demanded. He was seething in rage, his hand cramped into a claw.

“Oi oi”, Degor grunted, wide-eyed, fumbling as he tried to blind the lantern. “Slow down th’ chase a bit! Ya two are Kismicans?”

“If I am to be honest”, the orc replied, his eyes fixed on the long road, “I was not born in Kismican lands – as lord Alpharaz did. To be fair, I have no memory of where I was born, or of my parents. I was born slave and meat, as my people do.”

“Aye - not even Atlabor considers ya people. Ye can find fortune inna distant lands, where nobody cares who ye are.”

“Your story rings true, master orc, though it proves nothing. That the Empire valued those who could stand beyond their lowly stature – even orkind – means nothing to your claim.”

The orc cackled. “Of course that wouldn’t prove it. I hid my identity so that no one could know who I was. For situations like what happened, of course."

“What situations?”, Aljar inquired.

“Being captured.” The orc grabbed a helmet from a sack – full-face, sealed, sized for a large man, its metal top gleaming in the moonlight – and placed it on his lap. “All I needed was to take off a helmet like this and fight with my rank and file. In the instance of capture, I could blend with my unit – Hendak the Vicious would escape to fight another day, while I would plan my escape from people who knew nothing.”

Aljar grunted. “No wonder. Though I wonder how you escaped the scriers of the Alliance...”

The orc grinned, his eyes glowing a faint red, his tusks gleaming menacingly in the dark. “Surely you must know what a kajjak-lurh means.

“A ‘blind-eye’, in Orkat – a poetic term for one without a given fate.”

“Tha’ makes no sense”, Degor pointed out. “‘Ow come blind eyes ‘ave anything ta deal with ‘aving no fate?”

“Simple enough, dwarf. Everyone is born with a given disposition by the gods – some are destined to rule, others to toil. It is the nature of all living beings to face that disposition of destiny – one may swim against the current and rise above its standard, another can effortlessly live a fortuitous life. Yet one cannot fully escape the Sentences of Fate.”

“Aye, I know of ‘em. The decisions of the gods when we are born. One may reject the gods, but the gods eventually collect their due.”

“Exactly. When one is born, the gods make their Sentences known and Nurién the Chronicler seals them.” Aljar lifted his fingers as he described the gifts of the gods. “ Eléira binds the strands of the destined lovers, and Keurosz the Toilful gives you your talents. Makash lights a candle to your life, and Yaira casts the dice of your fortune. We are given choices as what to do, but we are bound to the gifts of the gods.”

“And by the grace of the Abandoned, Tairafesh, the Sentences can be twisted.”

Aljar crossed his arms, staring at the orc intently. “I distinctively recall general Hendak despised the gods.”

“The gods are just people with more power than us”, the orc riposted. “The only difference between them and us is that no one has seen them bleed.”

“Yet you respect Tairafesh. I thought rejection of the gods included all gods, even the Abandoned.”

“That I respect the Sentence of Tairafesh means not that I find him worthy of veneration.”

“Ain’t Tairafesh tha god that was cast out for rejectin’ ‘is own fate?”

“For being a petty thief”, Aljar commented, “you sure are a superstitious one. A coin to Lloresh, a word of blessing to Yaira--”

“An’ what if I be nice t’ tha gods? Ye can be faith-less all ye wan, but I dinnae wan tha gods ta punish me fer bein’ disrespectful!”

“If you wish to follow the gods”, the orc declared, “be my guest. I have no need for them, but if it makes you happy... As for why I admire the Sentence of Tairafesh, lord Alpharaz? They knew the Sentences of Fate were unfair and cast their own – the right to reject our destiny and embrace what we want, no matter who. Even as a godless heathen, those are words I can live by.”

“Surely sound like words of hope to your kind, master orc.”

“An’ ‘ow that relates ta blind-eyes?”, Degor inquired in a gruff tone. “Or bein’ blind ta scriers?”

“Diviners read the Sentences cast upon you”, Aljar explained. “Ask a Diviner about love, and they’ll see the strand of Eléira to guide you to your destined companion.”

“Hogwash! Diviners are charlatans!”

“Most you find in the streets or wandering around are, ser Degor, but prophets of the gods see the Sentences clearly, and true Diviners can do so as well. All arts of Divination involve knowledge beyond our senses and seeking connections. Looking for legendary treasure? Seek the Sentence of the one that hoarded it. Seek an individual in particular? Seek their Sentence by their name. All is written in the Scrolls of the Chronicler – all that the gods have seen, of course.”

“What lord Alpharaz claims”, the orc replied with bother, “is that not everyone is born under the sight of the Gods. Sometimes, the gods pay blind eye and a soul slips into our world without Nurién chronicling them – only as they grow and make their own fame. Because of this, they cannot be sought through reading the Chronicles.”

“Therefore”, Aljar haughtily took the word once more, “they are effectively immune to Divination – scriers cannot detect them, but prophets and diviners cannot determine their fate.” He looked at the orc, curious though astonished. “Then you claim, ‘master Hendak’, that you are kajjak-lurh?”

“The Depths know if I am. I write my own fate, Lord Alpharaz. I rose from nothing to become one of the five generals of Emperor Tharmis – a kajjak-lurh himself.”

“Yes”, Aljar pondered mockingly. “The late Emperor fancied himself a self-made man, free from the chains of the gods and thus equal to them. Still – great accolades are written in the Chronicles, and you were known by many. Surely the scriers could’ve asked the chroniclers of Nurién to seek you by your accolades.”

The orc laughed with a boom. “That is what you fail to understand, lord Alpharaz. The accolades were from General Hendak.”

“But you claim you are he! You seek to deceive me!?”

“Was the statue of the late Emperor Tharmis in Gran Kisma the Emperor himself?”

“Of course not. The statue was made from the image of the Emperor – not the inverse.”

“And surrounding the Emperor were us five Generals – Heumor, Soumar, Marsis, Neufer and me. All bearing statues to their likeness – but in my case, I was clad in full armor. None of the sculptors saw my true face.”

“But that means nothing! If you are Hendak, then those accolades are still yours! The Chronicles care little for the looks of the one, but for claiming the deed!”

“Exactly.” The orc dropped the reins, turning towards Aljar. “I led my troops through the worst of the Battle of the Gramaian Fields, but I killed not marshal Ferdumont.”

“There are witnesses claiming that general Hendak was the one who severed the head of the marshal!”

“Indeed. The witnesses saw one of my soldiers wearing my armor. I was in that final battle, and I fought against the marshal, but in the armor of the rank-and-file. I crashed through their ranks, reaching the marshal, while my supplanter led the army in my stake. It was that soldier who challenged the marshal, and it was they, with my axe, who dealt the final blow.”

“Then...” Aljar scoffed. “You are a fraud.”

The orc pulled the reins, stopping the carriage. He grasped Aljar’s neck, squeezing it tightly. “Tell that to my face one more time, lord Alpharaz.”

“You...” The former vizier struggled for air, grasping the orc’s meaty hands in a feeble attempt to escape them. “You...”

The orc released Aljar in disgust. “I saw dozens, hundreds of my men die in that battle. I saw one of my kin – Fadrak – worn from slaying a hundred Olmeriens, fall by a wound to the neck. I beheaded the bastard that killed him as I pushed forward. I fought with my army as one of their own. I won that battle because I fought with my people – not because I led them. It was a veteran of my battalion, captain Nereum Milusor, that ended the marshal’s life – and received praise from the Emperor as I watched from afar. But the Emperor knew who I was. Only his Imperial Majesty knew my true face.”

“But then, you cannot claim that you felled the marshal!”

“Indeed. But it was done with my armor and in my name – hence, it was general Hendak that did so. And thus it was written in the Chronicles. But when the scriers sought for the bearer of these accolades, they saw me not, but the armor of the general that bore my name.”

“And because the accolades weren’t done by a single man, there is no way to bind them to you...” Aljar cackled, grinning madly. “Brilliant!”

“You praise my brilliance now, when you questioned it not long ago?” Hendak the orc spat on the cart, growling. “All that ‘brilliance’ worked for was to get a reduced sentence after being caught.”

“I’d ask why ye got caught”, Degor muttered, huddling on a corner seeking the shadows, “but I admire yer brilliance, master orc. Saved ya from the ax. Dinnae save ya from prison, tho – why get cap’red?” He showed the brand of Dhagor Keep in the moonlight – a little aid for the orc, who could see in the darkness of night as clear as a prowling cat. “Ya gets branded anyways.”

“True”, the orc replied by showing his own brand, slowly fading away. “This is proof that I served time imprisoned. I am free from what I was accused of. It is Alliance law to allow minor offenders a second chance. Better to be a nobody than a martyr.”

“And yet you try and kill me for my ignorance!? You have yet to prove you are the last of the Bloodaxes, master orc!”

“Fair enough.” Hendak grabbed the helmet and placed it on his head. He looked from behind the slits at the former vizier, his breath rattling on the cold metal. “Perhaps if I remind you of what you told me”, he continued, his voice still deep but with a metallic ring to it, “I will prove to you I am the one I speak?”

Aljar was surprised by the orc’s voice. “Well... You definitely sound like the general.”

“You asked me once why I served his Imperial Majesty – why I bent my knee when you knew I could best him.”

“I...” Aljar tilted his head, smirking. “I recall asking that to the general, yes. After the Battle of the Five Hamlets.”

“And I answered you that I served the Emperor because he believed in my strength and skill. That I was the mule that moved the cart, and the ram that tore the wall.”

Aljar nodded. “That you did, master orc. Then you remember what I told you, right?”

“I remember”, Hendak said as he turned back to the reins, “that I ignored what you said. Something about living under the heel, but I silenced you before you could say under which.”

The former vizier stared at the orc, snickering. “Indeed you do, master Hendak. I still wonder why you felt offended by my praise. I was not proven wrong, was I? Emperor Tharmis lays dead, and you still live.”

“Yet if the Emperor still lived, I would serve as I did.”

“Why? The late Emperor promoted culling of the ranks – whereas your battalion was loyal to the last man!”

“His Imperial Majesty praised strength and the will to claim one’s destiny. I proved my worth to him, and I removed glory-seekers like general Varminor from my way to the top. I was content to be a general under his service – I did not aspire for more.”

“Why not?”, Aljar pressed the orc. “You rose from your destiny as a...as a slave, or as a low-life, to become one of the Empire’s generals! Why not step further? Do you not admire the Sentence of Tairafesh, to claim your own destiny as you see fit?”

“There is intelligence, lord Alpharaz, and there is wisdom. Intelligence is the ability to see the opportunity and seize it. Wisdom, on the other hand, is to see the pitfall standing beyond that opportunity.” Hendak released the reins, showcasing his full strength from the simple tunic he wore. “I know you are an ambitious man, and an intelligent one at that. I believe you made a wise move to rule behind his Imperial Majesty’s face, and it was your wisdom which led Gran Kisma to stand for so long. But you yet lack the wisdom to see the pitfall behind that station.”

“Tell me not. Was it that, if the Emperor fell, so would I?”

“One grows wiser after the fall. Had I claimed the title of Emperor, I would’ve had to play the same game the late Emperor disdained. Neither he nor I were fond of dealing with nobles – yourself included, my lord – and we relished combat. Perhaps I would not have been foolish to pursue relentless expansion as his Imperial Majesty did, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed that position – or being a puppet to your will, my lord.”

“I still reckon you saw the late Emperor as a figurehead. Skilled a warrior as he was, he was no politician.”

“But you were, were you not?” Hendak retook the reins, still with his helmet. “And in that, you thrived. Skilled in the ways of power, both magical and political. And look at where that took you – ruin and capture, and the hopes of no escape.”

“It was merely a mishap, master Hendak. You were captured as well, may I remind you – we are on the same path.”

“Yet you are a fugitive, and I am naught but an accomplice.”

“That matters not. I am free once more.”

“And what will you do now? The Kismican Empire is no more – save for the barony of lord Beldafar and the duchy of general Marsis Kneuva. Will you bend your knee to them? Perhaps the barony shall accept you because you’re a northerner as well, but you ran away like a coward. And I know on good authority that duchess Marsis has no taste for sorcerers.” Hendak turned his eye towards Aljar, his hum echoing within his helmet. “Or did you want me as another figurehead – one who could reunite the lands of baron Beldafar and lady Kneuva and remake the Empire, with you as my advisor?’

“Why not? What if you are not blind-eyed by the gods, but given a Sentence to rule?”

“Because I would paint myself a huge target, lord Alpharaz.”

“Then I ask you as you asked me. What will you do? The Bloodaxes are all but destroyed – scattered, at best, and slain to the last man at worst. What good is skill with arms, if you have no way to use it?”

Hendak took off his helmet, a serious look on his revealed face. “I became a mercenary seeking fortune. I gained it and I lost it. I mind not returning to that life – if the pay is good.”

“Aye, but to which group?” Degor finally spoke his mind after listening to the pair. “M’lord, the master orc is right. Tha empire be gone, an’ any attempt ta rebuild it will make the Alliance stir. But a mercenary life be not wise either.”

“There will always be wars, master dwarf.”

“Aye, but what’ll stir ‘em? Will ye wait ‘til tha nobles become greedy? B’sides, most mercenary companies were made part of tha Alliance’s armies. Anyone startin’ a new one is askin’ fer trouble.”

“Then”, asked Hendak with a rough voice, “what do you suggest?”

“There be lands unexplored”, Degor pointed out. “Places ta explore. People ta rough in, even inna streets.”

“Then you suggest we become criminals, master dwarf?” Aljar voiced his disgust. “Or petty adventurers?”

“Thar be good coin fer adventurin’. Visit ruins, uncover lost secrets, seek lost treasures an’ sell ‘em for a pretty coin.”

“Bah!”, Aljar spat. “To reduce ourselves to tomb robbers and treasure peddlers! The audacity...!”

“Sounds good.” Hendak’s amused response took Aljar by surprise. “Think, lord Alpharaz. With the treasure we find, we can do whatever we want – form a mercenary company or procure a secluded place to study the secrets you uncover on those very same ruins we explore. Perhaps a place we can claim as our own, under the blessing of the very Alliance that toppled the Kismican Empire. A way to start anew.”

“I’d rather pay a fool to do so than to do it myself.”

“And miss on the opportunity to deal with ancient and powerful creatures?” Hendak’s voice had a distinctive merchant’s tune to his words. “Lay first claim to the artifacts and secrets hidden within, rather than risk others stealing it from you?”

“The risks outweigh the benefits.”

“Not if we collaborate together.” Hendak rattled his helmet. “I relish combat, and that will give me much. The reagents we find will serve you in your pursuits, and I know very well that you are gifted in the healing arts as much as in the alchemical arts.”

“Perhaps not as much as a dedicated healer, but I do dabble on potions that restore vitality.”

“And master Degor can aid us with the traps laid by the former inhabitants – or by the new ones.”

“I be no warrior, master Hendak.”

“Always a time to learn. Of course”, Hendak pointed out, “there is the issue of how we shall prepare for an adventure. It costs money to embark in one, after all.”

“Indeed”, Aljar agreed. “It is not as easy as to travel a sextum and stumble into one! And if you seek my aid, the reagents alone are worth a fortune!”

“Aye, but all we need is a fine city where ta filch a few sacks. Ye can leave that ta me.”

“Or”, Hendak suggested, “we can do something the two of you probably never thought of.” Reading their silence, he explained it plainly. “We seek a place to hide – far from the Keep, of course, and away from the guard. We do any menial jobs – lord Alpharaz has knowledge of alchemy and could offer his services for a good price.”

“Provided I can find suitable herbs and a place to work them, of course! Though, to resort to selling my work...”

“Ashamed?”, Hendak mocked the former vizier. “The first thing I did when I was liberated was to work as a lumberjack.”

“Lumberjack!?” Aljar scoffed. “Why would you, a general, submit yourself to that job?”

“Learn a new skill”, he started. “Keep a low profile. Earn some coin – reputation, as well.”

“Surely not enough to purchase a cart like this!”

“Of course not”, the orc replied in jest, “but it is wise to ask, when you are benefitting from it?”

“Perhaps not, but would you risk your freedom and lack of notoriety for a petty crime?”

“Rest assured, lord Alpharaz, that it was not stolen."

“It’s a soddin’ sturdy cart”, Degon appraised, “if showin’ its age. An’ tha horses are fresh – t'least ‘til the next inn-between or hamlet. Tha horses alone cost more than a lumberjack’s wage, I reckon.”

“Your appreciation is correct, master dwarf. Suffice to know that it was not gained by banditry – quite the opposite, it was gained in an attempt to stop it.”

“Stopping banditry...?” Aljar rubbed his chin. “A most noble act – though it eludes me how it resulted on your acquisition of this cart.”

“I claimed I tried to stop the bandits, lord Alpharaz. I never spoke of what happened to the victims.”
© Copyright 2023 Nostrum (nostrum777 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2301195-Confessions-along-the-Way