Osa, Conda, Erico and Odrián did not look particularly excited to be sent to the hall of the King of the Orcs. Conda even got into a fit of rage and blamed me for “all this”, that it was all my fault. Her friends added nothing, but neither said a word in my defence.
I might have replied with a few harsh words. I probably did, even though my memory tries to make me wiser that I was. But the stain of blame, whoever had it, has faded into a wisp. I was fourteen and they were not much older. What could I expect?
Party for them, locked in the pantry for me
As for me, I was placed under the whims of my goblin chieftain, Tinytusks, and he showed me around, together with his warriors that he had chosen as guard for our journey: Ivmeasec, Ahem, Loglegs and the goblin women Tuist, Foggy, and Djodjy. They ate and drunk at the Feast Hall, run by two family of halfling slaves. I was locked in the pantry for my goblin masters and mistresses would not be, let's say, in their best mind to guard me.
To be locked in a halfling pantry might be good for you, however. Provided, of course, that such halflings are friendly and that you are, like I was, a starving teenager. It was not only the food, but the songs, the dancing, the smell and the cheerfulnes. A weak smile —they told me— is the spark that ignites the oven, and then you can have spiced honey bread, with raisins, and served with double cream and pulfy. I have no idea what that thing was, but boy, it is good.
I slept in a corner of the cellar, while my masters slept in their room upstairs. But I cannot complain, for the halflings offered me a compulsory bath, blankets for the night, and a breakfast of kings. Still, I cannot guess how my belly, thin as it was, could find room for as much as I had eaten.
Dark-awe is a cave close to Udachi, where an ancient goblin goddess dwells. That's where Tinytusks band led me the next morning, without a word of explanation. The mouth of this cave had been painted and carved, so that the stalagmites and stalactites mimick the maw of a terrible monster; its throat, so to speak, was barred with a metal fence.
I was not minding them too much, as Tinytusks had been asking me about my past life throughout our walk there, but when the guards of Dark-awe ordered us to stop, everything change abruptly.
“Have you brought the sacrifice?” The chief guard asked, and I did not care because they were speaking in Goblin.
“Then, bring it in.”
Tinytusks nodded, sad, and then I worried. “This is the end of our walk,” he told, “we will not go any deeper”, his warriors turned their faces from me. “Your life will end down there, do not bring shame to you and me by delaying what must be rushed.”
That, he told in our language, word by word, learned by heart. At this time, you might be guessing Tinytusks changed his mind at the last minute, or that a ghost is writing these lines. However…
“Will it hurt.”
“Am I going to die?”
“It will go fast.” Tinytusks evaded my question.
“… good-goodbye then.”
“Oh, I forgot, this is awkward,” my chieftain told me, “the breaches you are wearing, leave them here, I will sell them afterwards.”
A smashed gnat
Inside, it was dark, the fence had been locked behind me. My mind began to sing, of its own will, the funeral song I heard at my mother's. My knees quaked, my feet were colder than the rocky, wet, coarse ground. I breathed and stopped. Darkness blinded me. It smelled of heather, though it must had been my fear stricken imagination.
T wo stomps and then she stopped an arm's length from my heart. I could barely make her immense figure in the shadows, but I knew I was but a gnat to her. Then her weapon became alight like a torch, and I could see. I was been dwarfed by a giant orc, clad but with a skirt, so her gender was obvious. On her arms, a wooden shield decorated with a monstrous skull and a stone mace festoned with iron spikes. Was she to smash me like a gnat?
“Close to me, boy, they are watching!"
She spoke, or rather, roared in the common tongue, which did little to help me understand what she meant, but I complied. I walked behind her, deeper and deeper into the cave until we eventered a sort of chamber bathed by a greenish light that came from its very bottom. Death was waiting for me in a lagoon of boiling green gruel. Suddenly the prospect of ending as a smashed gnat seemed a handsome fate, but I was not spared a second to think about pleading, running or fighthing.
Into the rocky ground, she threw her weapon , grabbed me and hurled me into the pool, the worst of any terrors I had known or dreamed, and ran away into the darkness.
I shrieked, cried. The green gruel, whatever it was, felt lukeworm. I was not about to die scalded, but I was breathing fire. My eyes closed, my head hanged limp, and my mind heard the voices of thousands of children, hundreds of adults: goblins, humans, halflings and even some elves who had gone before through my ordeal. All cried in fear, many had died, many begged me to swim, run away, but I couldn't. A crow flew in, scattering all them away.
That night, I woke up at the mouth of the cave, weak as if I had just survived the most horrible of fevers, almost naked, my skin turned to green, alone, except for my chieftain who wrapped me in a blanket. “Many days, you'll serve me as a slave, but I'll carry you tonight to the Feast Hall, shall we? I've heard you fancy honey bread.”
Why was he caring for me now? Er… who knows? That was Tinytusks then.