Skin of Glass

By Shawn Hagen

Fantasy / Adventure

The Black Spear

Kesk wiped the sweat from his forehead and then removed the water bottle from his belt. He turned and looked towards the four orcs following him. They were the sergeants, under his command only by the order of Timmin. They were good warriors, fought well, he had seen that twice on their journey, and they followed orders.

They had all come from the North, lived and fought there until Timmin had bought their services and took them south. Shadows of that past could still be seen, but in the years that they had been under the command of a human they had changed. Every day he was with them he grew more and more dissatisfied. Were these the children of Gruumsh, destined to take the world?

"How far to Willow Pond?" he called to the largest of the sergeants, an orc named Olgar. He took a long drink from his water bottle.

Olgar shielded his eyes against the sun and looked off into the distance. "An hour, maybe a little more."

Kesk nodded. In the North an orc like Olgar would have commanded a small tribe by force of his arm alone, and likely would have led them all to death in some stupid attack. He made a good sergeant.

"You understand what I want?" he asked, shifting his attention to Colgam.

The small orc nodded. "As you say."

Colgam was small and thin; he would not have lasted long in the tribes. If his weak body did not get him killed, his intelligence would have earned the wrath of a leader like Olgar. That an orc like him could survive and rise to leadership position under Timmin was one of the few things that Kesk approved of.

He met the eyes of the two other orcs, Sheepa, a tall, muscular female, and Agars, an old, heavily scarred male missing his left hand. They both nodded indicating that they also understood the plan.

Kesk corked the water bottle, returned it to his belt, and then started down the road once more.

The three-day journey, other than a few minor attacks by monsters-Kesk had actually sought them out to test the mettle of his companions-had been quiet enough. The residents of small farming settlements Kesk and the others passed through always reacted poorly to the orcs. Fortunately it had never risen above name calling and refusing to let them enter Inns.

Not that Kesk would have minded had it escalated, he felt much closer to his orc side than his human. At the moment such an outcome was to be avoided, as much as he would have wished otherwise.

Of course things were going to change, and he was going to see just what kind of orcs he was with. It was possible, as much as he hated to admit it, that Timmin might have truly tamed them. Money, comfort, military discipline, all those things might do that. However he knew something that might remind them of what they were.

Almost an hour later they came in sight of the walled farming-town of Willow Pond. Built next to the pond that named it, the town was a well-fortified settlement where the farmers and their families lived. The large farms that surrounded the town were busy with spring planting and winter cleanup. The town itself was nearly empty.

"Now we pass through, unseen, by the power of He who Watches," he told them, using one of Gruumsh's titles. He reached into the scroll case at his side and began to chant a prayer to Gruumsh as he removed a yellowed scroll. He unrolled it and began to read the words on it, embellishing them slightly to make it seems as if the prayer continued.

As his chanting ended the air around them shimmered and where once four orcs and their half-orc leader had stood now stood five human merchants. The four orcs looked a little surprised at the sudden transformation. "Gruumsh shields you at my request," he told them, though the spell he had cast had nothing to do with Gruumsh. "Now let's go."

They entered the town, drawing only a greeting from the bored guard at the gate. They walked along the nearly empty streets until they came to a shop near one of the walls. It was a plain building, made mostly of stone. Above the door were a crossed sword and axe, both rusty. Thick smoke rose from the chimney and from within came the sound of scraping metal.

"Wait out here until I call you," Kesk told the four, and then he entered the shop.

There was a large forge in the corner of the room; a tall, broad shouldered, bearded man sat at a grindstone, pumping it with his foot as he ran the blade of a battle-axe over it. More weapons hung on the walls, or were stood in racks. Bars of iron were piled near the forge, and the tools of the man's trade hung neatly near by.

The man stopped his grinding and put the axe aside. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"Are you Gregor, the weapon smith?"

"I am. And you?"

"I am Kesk. I wish to purchase a spear from you for I've been told you are one of the finest smiths in the area."

"I'm not sure I am the finest, but you'll not find one of my weapons rusting from the first rain, or chipping easily, and they won't break under the blow of any sword but those that've been enchanted."

Kesk nodded. "That is what I am looking for."

Gregor turned to one of the racks and pulled forth a long spear with a broad, heavy head and a shaft of hardwood. The butt was shod in iron, and rings of steel encircled the shaft, about one every hand span. "This is the best I currently have. Give me two weeks and I'll forge something just for you."

Kesk did not answer. He walked over to the rack and looked over the other spears there. He touched each one in turn and then finally looked at the weapon the Gregor held. "May I?"

Gregor nodded and handed Kesk the spear. Kesk looked at it, testing the balance and the weight. He shifted his hands up and down the shaft and then finally ran his fingers across the steel head, testing the edge. "This is a fine weapon." He returned it to Gregor. "How much?"

Gregor looked at Kesk, obviously taking in the quality of his clothing and gear. "Four hundred gold coins, Sembian weight."

"Four hundred?" Kesk exclaimed, as the weapon smith would expect. "It is a fine weapon, but no more than two hundred." It was a great deal of money to offer for a spear, but it was the work of a master.

"That would hardly pay for the steel. Three hundred and forty, and no less."

"Three hundred and no more," Kesk countered.

"Done," Gregor said, a smile on his face.

"Done," Kesk agreed. "Colgam!" he called.

The small orc, still looking like a human merchant, entered the shop. "Yeah?" he asked, his common had a thick accent.

"Give me the gold."

While Colgam rifled through his pack for the bag of gold that Kesk had entrusted to him Gregor was taking a scale down from the shelf. Colgam handed the heavy, leather bag to Kesk as Gregor set up the scale.

"Three hundred coins, Sembian weight," Gregor said, indicating the scale. One side was loaded down with several iron weights.

Kesk made a production of checking the weights and then began to remove gold coins from the bag, dropping them into the weighing bowl. Soon the two sides of the scale were balanced.

Gregor scooped the bowl full of gold from the scale and placed it behind him. He picked up the spear and presented it to Kesk. "You have made a fine purchase."

"I have," Kesk agreed as he took the weapon. He turned and walked towards the door, careful not to catch the long weapon on the doorframe. He stopped and turned on the threshold. "Gregor," he called.

"Yes?" the man was pouring the gold coins into a bag and did not look up from his work.

"You did make this spear, correct?" Kesk spun the weapon about, shifting his hold on it.

"Of course I did. Why would you ask?" Gregor looked up just in time to see Kesk charge him, the spear leading. He had no time to defend himself. The spearhead caught him in abdomen, just below the ribs. It cut up through his chest, into his lungs, then out his back. Kesk did not stop, he drove the impaled man forward until the spearhead bit deep into the wall, pinning Gregor there.

Gregor tried to cry out, but he seemed only capable of making soft moans, and red, frothy blood spilled from his mouth.

The room grew dark as the four orcs, no longer cloaked by illusion, entered the shop and closed the doors. Only the red light from the forge illuminated the room.

Kesk jammed the spear's butt against the floor, making certain it would hold, then he moved forward and pushed Gregor farther up the spear blade, revealing the metal at the base. "Gruumsh," he called out in harsh orcish, "I present to you a spear, bathed in the blood of its maker."

One hand still holding Gregor he reached to his belt and removed a small vial. He used his teeth to pull the cork out and then poured its contents onto the weapon's head, letting it run down onto the wood of the shaft. "Gruumsh, I present to you a spear anointed in the blood of an elf!"

Tossing the vial aside he placed the pad of his thumb on the blade and drew it down, cutting himself. "Gruumsh, I present to you a spear blessed with my blood, the blood of your priest and champion! Give me the power that I might destroy those who would oppose me!"

The prayer ended and for a moment the forge was silent but for the soft moans that Gregor still made. Suddenly the weapon smith's head jerked back, cracking into the wall. The heels of his feet began to drum against the wood and he clenched his fists so tightly that he broke his fingers.

Kesk was not immune to what was happening for he too was subject to the pain as Gruumsh's power flowed through him and into the spear, taking some of his own life force with it. He gritted his teeth together against the pain, maintaining his hold on the spear, calling on years of discipline not to cry out in pain. He would not shame himself in Gruumsh eyes.

Then suddenly it was over. Gregor went limp as he died. Kesk took a deep breath and then pulled the spear free from the wall. As Gregor's body fell to the floor Kesk turned to face the four orcs. He was pleased to see there was fear in their eyes, but there was also wonder at the power of their god.

He drove the iron-shod butt of the spear against the stone floor, cracking the flagstone. The steel head had darkened to the colour of fresh blood. Even the steel rings on the shaft had changed. Kesk swung the spear around and the shaft shortened, became an easily wielded short spear.

He stepped forward, moving closer to Olgar. "Receive the blessing of Gruumsh," he said.

Olgar licked his lips and then nodded. The tip of the spear lashed out, cutting a gash above Olgar's left eye. Blood flowed from the wound and into his eye.

Kesk moved to the side so he stood in front of Agars. "Receive the blessing of Gruumsh."

Agars nodded and Kesk cut him as he had Olgar.

Next he moved to stand in front of Colgam. "Receive the blessing of Gruumsh."

Colgam did something that surprised Kesk. He reached up and grasped the lower lid of his left eye, pulling down.

Kesk nodded and then used the spear's tip to remove the small orc's eye. Colgam hissed in pain, but did not cry out. "You will learn the will of Gruumsh," he told him and then moved on to stand in front of Sheepa.

He had never given the blessing to a female. It was not done; and yet she was a worthy warrior, strong and skilled. He would let the god decide. "Receive the blessing of Gruumsh."

She stood proud and nodded.

The spear cut her, much deeper than it had the others, but she did not flinch. Kesk nodded and smiled.

He moved away from the four and looked at his new converts. "We now return to the camp. Anyone who sees us leave must die. I would not wish to ruin the reputation of Timmin's proud mercenaries."

Colgam was the first to laugh, but the other three joined in soon enough.


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