Not what they seem II
Caewen sprinted away from the village trying to keep up with the Captain, fully intending to thank him for saving her life. The Captain's party had already entered the woodlands ahead of her and she was barely keeping their backs in sight. However the adrenaline rush from the fight was helping her a bit.
She entered the woods and slowed as she heard the footsteps ahead of her cease. She flattened herself behind a tree and peeked out seeing the Captain's party talking to several more Orcs.
"Good to see ya boss!"
The captain slapped the speaking orc's shoulder "Good to be alive Snag. Thanks for the rescue"
Snag responded "Aw it was nuthin boss, you've saved us, so we has to save you. It's that Chivalry thing you keep talking about, right?"
"Yep" The Captain smiled and gestured for the troll to put the box down, and the troll did so with surprising gentleness. The Captain opened the box and pulled out a guitar.
It was a beautiful thing, made of wood that shone in the sunlight and gave it a polished look. The six strings vibrated easily as the captain strummed it once and he held the guitar as if it had been made just for him. He placed it back in the box with the utmost care and the troll picked it up again.
"Well boys, the cargo is secure, you've saved our lives." He indicated the two orcs who had stood on the gallows with him before continuing "And we've accomplished all this right before dinner!" He finished his sentence with a chuckle.
The mention of the word dinner reminded Caewen that she was hungry, and her stomach gave a barely audible growl in response. However barely audible was enough for the ears of orcs!
Caewen suddenly found herself seized from behind by a pair of strong arms and gagged with a piece of cloth. Her arms were held in a vise-like grip by a massive fist and she was half pushed to the center of the clearing. The Orc behind her smiled "Lookee here boss!"
Another Orc studied her for a moment before saying "Can we eat 'er?"
The Captain raised a hand "What have I told you about eating live meat?"
The orcs and the troll chorused "Not to do it."
The Captain nodded at them and looked Caewen in the eyes. His brown eyes searched her green ones intently, almost as if he was looking for something, but Caewen had no idea what it was. Finally he nodded to the orc holding Caewen "Let her go."
The orc compiled and his hand was removed allowing her to talk, but before she could the Captain spoke first "Why are you following us?"
"I…..You saved my life, and I wanted to thank you sir…see I have no family…and no one's really saved me before…" She shuffled her feet trying to think of something else to say.
"It was nothing; I think you should come with us for the time being, safety in numbers and all that." He smiled and began to lead his party away and Caewen had no choice but to follow.
She was still painstakingly curious about how a simple man like the Captain maintained control over the orcs, in all the stories she had heard the orcs were viscous monsters that would have torn her apart if she had been alone in the woods.
I guess labels aren't all they appear to be she thought.
The Captain led them through a maze of twists and turns that soon had Caewen dizzy from attempting to memorize the route, and she soon gave up. The orcs helped her navigate the harder paths and generally treated her like a lady,1 which was again something she never would have expected from orcs. The curiosity boiled inside of her until she finally asked an orc "Why are you treating me like this?"
The orc looked ahead to his captain and smiled "The Captain taught us to act like this, it's called Chivalry, am I doing it right boss?" He shouted
"Yes! We'll make gentle-orcs of you yet!" Came the Captain's enthusiastic reply.
Other questions were left unasked as the Captain turned and smiled "Welcome to our home!"
Caewen's breath was taken away as she looked into a clearing that seemed to be carved into the woodlands that bordered it. It was a simple grass field that was covered in tents. Tents made of animal skin, cloth, wood, and bone. They stood side by side and each was unique in its own way, farther away from the tents were several fire pits which formed a semi-circle, and even farther away were weapon racks: holding up crude armor, spiked clubs, curved swords, black bows, and piles of black feathered arrows.
But what really shocked her was the sheer diversity of the inhabitants of the campsite. Large and thick skinned Trolls, small and greedy goblins, leathery winged bats, Furry Minotaur, wolves, wyverns, giant snakes, and several other beings that seemed to be hybrids of some sort, however the Orcs outnumbered them all, and they seemed to own the campsite, walking with an air of authority. All ages and races were welcome here it seemed.
The Captain walked right into the middle of the chaos and the monsters began to cheer and clap at the sight of their leader. The Captain cleared his throat and the crowd fell silent instantly as if he had rebuked them. "Alright gang, the package is secure and we are all alive, so that mission was a success! Snag!" He called to the orc who came over instantly "What did I miss?"
Snag smiled "We hit three more human caravans boss, and got away with weapons only, no losses on either side." More orcs carried crates of human weaponry towards their boss for inspection and he smiled, picking through the iron maces, the steel swords, and the wooden arrows.
He smiled and raised his voice "Alright boys! This shop is open for business!"
The crowd surged forward enthusiastically but calmly and began to pass weapons back and forth trying them out. Caewen watched as the monsters swung the weapons or test fired them and she saw the Captain passing weapons toward his followers.
When every last creature was armed with at least one new weapon, the Captain cleared his throat again and the chatter ceased, only to be replaced by a loud thumping. Everyone turned to see a giant march out of the trees, raining leaves and twigs down on them.
The giant was at least 6 times the height of a man, and held a tree as his club, his voice echoed for miles as he sighted his captain and made his report "Captain! Good to see you again, sir! You weren't followed at all; this area is safe for tonight."
The Captain nodded and addressed them all "Alright! Successful mission means a feast, but we have a guest." He turned towards Caewen "Tell them your name, don't be shy."
She felt a small bit of fear encircle her as every eye in the camp focused on her. "My name is Caewen" She finally forced her name between dry lips.
The Captain continued "Caewen is our guest, and we all know how to treat a guest right?"
The crowd nodded and the Captain smiled "So double the portion of cooked meat tonight, and let's have some fun!"
One of the orcs nodded "I'll tell the chefs, although why you eat your meat cooked is beyond us! Can't you just rip it off the bone?"
The Captain shook his head "Not today my friends."
Over the next few hours Caewen followed the Captain around the camp and she saw a different side of the beings that she would have recoiled from under normal circumstances.
Several orcs and wolves were returning from the woods carrying freshly killed animal corpses over their backs, they placed the corpses in a pile near the pits and goblins swarmed over them slicing the corpses apart and separating the food from the entrails.
Then a small portion of meat was pushed aside while huge chunks of the rest were placed on a table. Orcs and trolls chopped at the meat separating in into smaller chunks which were placed on plates. Blood, bits of entrails, and who knows what else was spattered around eventually ending up in the meat. Flies buzzed around the corpses and the smell soon traveled throughout the entire camp. The creatures seemed to enjoy the smell of rotting meat and crowded around the table drooling and licking their lips. Caewen recoiled from the smell, but she couldn't escape it.
However the set aside portion was treated with care, the Orcs cleaned their tools before and after cutting it, and the blood was washed away. That small portion was placed on a spit, and as the sun began to set a female troll turned it over a fire letting the juices cascade over the cooking meat, and Caewen sniffed appreciatively taking in the whiffs of the cooked meat that entered her nose, and she noticed the creatures were recoiling from the cooked meat, and the female troll looked like she was about to gag.
The Minotaurs heaved large barrels out of a tent and placed them near the table. Caewen walked over as a minotaur smiled at her saying "This is the finest ale in the human kingdoms! We should know…we stole it!" He erupted in laughter and knocked Caewen forward with a hearty slap on the back.
Caewen smiled as she steadied herself "I'm sure it's delicious!"
An orc walked over to her then, and held two plates up for her inspection "Miss, which one do you want?
Both plates were covered in thick slabs of bread, a cup of some sort of stew, and several green vegetables she couldn't identify. However there was one difference in the plates: The left plate's food was rotting, the bread was green and moldy, something was moving in the stew, and the vegetables were wilted and curled.
Wordlessly Caewen pointed to the right plate and turned away before she began to choke. The orc walked away and Caewen finally allowed herself to shake her head and swallow the bile that was building up in her throat.
I'll never get used to these creatures she thought, but then again she had all the time in the world to start.
The moon was high and the stars blanketed the campsite as the feast started. The rotten food was devoured greedily by the orcs and other creatures with them ripping, clawing, pecking, and tearing the meat, bread, and greens into chunks which they then shoveled into their mouths. The stew was poured into wide mouths dripping down greasy chins, and cups of ale were upended, refiled, and then upended again with the alcohol seemingly having little effect on the monsters, only making them want more.
The Captain seemed unbothered by the chaos of the meal, laughing and joking with those around him, and Caewen simply ate silently trying her hardest not to throw the food back up each time the orcs plates were refilled.
The Captain had piled his food onto the loaves of bread, creating a massive sandwich. He dunked it in the stew and then demolished it in two huge bites, much to the awe of the creatures around him with several younger orcs trying it themselves.
Finally once the meal was done2 the Captain stood and walked towards a large fire and the crowd followed with murmurs of anticipation. Caewen was caught up in the crowd and finally managed to ask "What's happening?"
An orc answered the question in a hushed tone "Just watch miss, just watch"
The Captain brought out the guitar she had seen him with earlier, and the second he strummed it the crowd fell silent captivated by his every action. After playing a brief melody the Captain began to sing, his voice was gentle but demanding and the music seemed to wrap around the whole camp. Caewen couldn't catch the exact lyrics but it was clear that this song was special to the Captain, and probably special to whomever it was meant for. The song was about love, and how perfect this phantom girl made him feel.
The guitar seemed to take on a life of its own as the Captain's skilled fingers moved up and down the neck pressing lightly on the frets and his right hand strummed slowly with each strum sending a feeling of warmth through Caewen, and complementing the song perfectly.
Caewen noticed that unlike the other things she considered beautiful, the orcs weren't shying away from the music. If anything they seemed to be enjoying it and some of the tougher monsters had tears forming in their eyes.
Eventually the stream of music flowing around her had to run dry, and the song ended with a powerful strum and the Captain sang one last note and held it for what seemed like forever, and when it ended there was a silence that lasted almost as long as that note had.
Caewen smiled to herself. If someone told me orcs would treat me nicely, cook my food, and appreciate beautiful music I would have laughed at them, but these orcs are doing just that and more. She silently vowed to never label another person or creature without knowing them again.
The Captain lowered his guitar and the crowd stayed silent, until one creature began to clap, followed by another, and another until the whole crowd was clapping and wiping away tears. He bowed to the crowd and spoke in a hushed tone. "Thanks for saving my life guys."
The crowd didn't respond, but no words were necessary in that moment. Caewen suddenly saw the loyalty and the devotion that these creatures had for their leader, and she felt her heart grow. She realized that acceptance was the glue that held this war band together, no matter who you were, if the outside world didn't want you were accepted here.
The Captain raised his voice "I'll be in my tent if I'm needed, carry on with the feast but remember we'll be raiding in the morning!"
The crowd slowly drifted apart: some went back to the tables to cram in another plate or three followed by a couple goblets of ale, some went to areas by the fire and broke out dice and cards, and some went to bed ready to rise early and fight the next morning.
The Captain walked into his tent and Caewen followed after a while, only to discover the Captain wasn't there.
The Captain's tent was tidy, but also had a few possessions scattered here and there, and a desk covered in maps, diagrams, and an arrow. There was also a place clearly marked for the guitar, and that area was completely clean.
It's only been about ten minutes, where did he go?
Caewen's ears suddenly picked up the Captain's voice coming from behind the tent and she walked towards them pressing her ear to the fabric. She picked up the same melody she had heard before only in a much softer tone, and the Captain's voice was quieter and full of affection.
Caewen blushed as she realized that he was singing to whoever the song was meant for, and she felt the warmth and even love in the lyrics, and she barely knew the Captain.
That girl must be enjoying this she thought knowing that that girl was probably feeling the effects of the song one-hundred fold.
The song ended with the same held strum and the same long note, but instead of increasing in volume, his voice decreased until it just evaporated on the breeze.
Caewen heard the Captain's voice "Did you like that? It's not perfect but I think it was good enough."
Caewen's curiosity was at an all-time high as she peeked out of the tent and strained to see the face of the girl who meant so much to the Captain; so much that he wrote a song about her and just preformed it for only her in the most romantic way possible.
She saw the Captain sitting on a log….completely alone.
The Captain noticed her standing there and smiled "Don't be shy, and don't be frightened. I've had to thwart several assassination attempts, so you learn to notice the little things."
Caewen had jumped at the sound of the Captain's voice and she walked out from under the tent. "That was beautiful, but if you don't mind my asking, who were you talking to?"
The captain turned to the area beside him and picked up a gold locket. He handed it to Caewen and nodded "Her."
Caewen tilted the locket and saw a small painting inside. The painting was done with incredible detail, and she saw an elven woman with blond hair and blue eyes staring back at her. Caewen stared deep into the painting and noticed something:
There was love in that painting: Everything from how the painting was painted, to how the woman's eyes shone, to how the Captain now held the locket, it all screamed love.
The Captain closed the locket and placed it back around his neck carefully. "Lorien, that was her name."
Caewen sat beside the captain "You loved her."
He only nodded dumbly and then spoke "I remember the first day we met, like it was yesterday…
1 After they stopped seeing her as dinner
2 This took a while, because everyone in the camp was a solid eater, and the Captain proved that he was the equal of many orcs in terms of food consumption.