Read The Bone Orcs Online

Authors: Jonathan Moeller

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Historical, #One Hour (33-43 Pages), #Literature & Fiction, #Arthurian, #frostborn, #ridmark arban, #calliande

The Bone Orcs

THE BONE ORCS

Jonathan Moeller

***

 

Description

RIDMARK ARBAN was once an
honored Swordbearer. Now he is a disgraced exile, outcast and
alone.

Yet he is still a warrior
without peer, and when death cultists attack an innocent village,
Ridmark must put himself to the test to save the villagers.

Or die in the
attempt...

***

 

The Bone Orcs

Copyright 2016 by Jonathan
Moeller.

Smashwords Edition.

Cover image copyright
copyright Jules315 | Dreamstime.com & Lotophagi |
Dreamstime.com - Human Skull Photo.

Ebook edition published
February 2016.

All Rights Reserved.

This novel is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the
product of the author's imagination, or, if real, used
fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without the express written permission of the
author or publisher, except where permitted by law.

***

 

The Bone Orcs

In the Year of Our Lord 1474,
Ridmark Arban needed answers, so he went to one of the most
dangerous places in Andomhaim.

He thought it worth the risk,
because the Frostborn would return.

Perhaps not today, and likely
not tomorrow, but soon, within his lifetime. The Warden had warned
him about the omen of blue fire, a day when blue fire would fill
the sky from horizon to horizon. On that day, the ancient wizard
had said, the way would be open for the Frostborn to return.
Ridmark had tried to warn the nobles and the Swordbearers and the
Magistri, but to no avail. No one believed him, so he needed
proof.

The Qazaluuskan Forest might
well hide that proof.

It was a dangerous place. The
pagan orcs of the Qazaluuskan Forest were aloof and remote, but
nonetheless unremittingly hostile to the men of Andomhaim.
Outsiders who ventured into the Forest tended to never return.
Whenever the Forest’s tribes launched raids on the nearby lands,
seeking captives and loot, the Duxi of the Northerland and
Caertigris launched punitive expeditions, sacking a few villages
and burning a few forts, but every attempt to conquer the vast
lands of the Forest had ended in catastrophe.

Going there was madness.

Yet the Qazaluuskan shamans
knew secrets, whispers wrung from the dead by their necromantic
spells. They knew secrets lost everywhere else in the world, and
sometimes bold Magistri went in search of those secrets. They, too,
usually did not return.

But Ridmark thought it was
worth the risk. If he could find proof of how the Frostborn would
return, perhaps the realm could prepare itself. If he was killed in
the process…well, that would be no great loss for anyone. He had
once been a Swordbearer, a knight of the realm, and a husband, and
now he was none of those things.

As if to remind him of his
failures, the scar upon his left cheek and jaw, the brand of a
broken sword, still felt tight, even after a year.

Not that he needed it to
remind him of his failures. He saw them every time he closed his
eyes.

So Ridmark made his way
through the wild hills of the Northerland, making for the western
borders of the Qazaluuskan Forest. He moved with silent haste, his
staff in his right hand and his dagger at his belt. A quiver of
arrows hung from his hip, his short hunting bow slung over his
shoulder. He had been a miserable shot with a bow, but a year of
living alone in the wilderness had improved his skills, and he was
now a decent enough shot that he didn’t have to worry about
starvation.

Hunger was a marvelous
teacher.

The rocky hills of the
Northerland grew fewer, the pine trees thinner. The ground sloped
downward, moving towards the flatter lands of the Qazaluuskan
Forest, and Ridmark followed the course of a stream as it flowed
south. Not many people lived in the hills of the northeastern
Northerland. This part of the Northerland was too dangerous. The
hills were riddled with entrances to the Deeps, and the dvargir and
the kobolds and the deep orcs often came forth in search of slaves.
More dangerous creatures emerged from the Wilderland to the north,
and over everything hung the threat of the secretive Qazaluuskan
orcs, who issued forth from the Forest on a whim of their strange
rituals and vanished again just as quickly.

The hills were dangerous, but
for now they were quiet. The air was heavy with the smell of pine
needles and the wet mud of the stream, the wind rustling through
the branches. The wind picked up a little, tugging at Ridmark’s
gray cloak, and…

He stopped.

Smoke. He smelled a great
deal of smoke.

He was almost to his
destination, a village called Toricus at the very edge of the
Forest. Most of its folk made their living digging silver from the
hills, while the rest dared to lumber in the Forest itself. Ridmark
was only a few miles away, enough to smell the smoke of the
village’s fires.

Yet the smell should not have
been that strong. Had a fire broken out? Ridmark hesitated for a
moment, and then started forward.

As he did, a shape appeared
from behind one of the pine trees.

Ridmark turned, taking his
staff in both hands.

The figure was an orcish man,
tall and strong, wearing leather boots and ragged trousers. His
torso, arms, and face had all been smeared with white war paint.
Behind his sharp tusks, his face had been marked with black paint,
stark against his eyes and nose and mouth.

The war paint gave his face
the appearance of a grinning white skull, while his arms and torso
had a leprous look from the white paint. In his right hand he
carried an axe with an iron blade, and he wore strange amulets of
bones and black feathers and small polished stones.

The paint and the amulets
marked him as an orc of the Qazaluuskan Forest. Of old the orcs had
worshipped their cruel blood gods, and though many orcs had
converted to the church of the Dominus Christus that Ridmark’s
ancestors had brought with them from Old Earth, many still followed
the old ways and the old gods. The orcs of the Forest worshipped
Qazalask, the blood god of death and the dead, and in his name his
shamans practiced necromancy, summoning shades and animating
corpses.

Ridmark shifted his grip on
his staff. The orc stared at him without blinking.

“We needn’t fight,” said
Ridmark in the orcish tongue. “Let me pass and you can live.”

“The omens were propitious
this day,” said the orc, hefting his axe. “The signs spoke of
victory. A trophy I shall have, in honor to my house.” He spoke the
orcish tongue with the rasping accents of the Qazaluuskan Forest.
“Blood I shall spill, and I shall offer your heart and liver and
lungs as tributes to the shaman, that he may offer them up to the
Lord of Bones.”

His eyes glimmered crimson as
the battle fury of his orcish blood came upon him, and then the
Qazaluuskan orc charged forward with a howl, his axe snapping back
for a blow.

Ridmark waited until the last
moment and dodged, sweeping his staff around. He caught the orc
across the shins with a loud crack, and the orc stumbled, but he
recovered his balance and attacked once more. Ridmark dodged again,
staff ready in both hands. In the year since he had been stripped
of his soulblade, he had found that most men, whether human or
orcish or dvargir, were contemptuous of the staff, considering it a
weapon for peasants and farmers. They assumed that wooden stick was
no match for a blade.

They were wrong. Ridmark had
learned that the hard way himself. It was time to teach this orc
the same lesson.

The Qazaluuskan orc spun,
roaring as he went on the attack. Ridmark dodged yet again, but
this time he snapped the staff forward, bringing the weapon down
upon the orc’s wrists. The impact staggered the orc, who struggled
to keep his grip upon the axe’s haft. That moment of imbalance gave
Ridmark the time he needed to spin the staff, its end slamming into
the side of the orc’s head.

The Qazaluuskan stumbled, and
Ridmark hit him three times across the temple in rapid
succession.

After the third blow, the orc
fell dead to the ground, blood leading from his nostrils and
mouth.

Ridmark took a step back,
raising his staff to guard position on reflex. Yet no one else
stirred in the pine trees or upon the slopes of the hills. The
Qazaluuskan orc had been alone.

But for a Qazaluuskan orc to
have been alone near the village of Toricus…

The smell of wood smoke grew
sharper.

Ridmark broke into a jog,
leaving the dead orc behind, and soon came to Toricus.

Or, at least, what was left
of it.

Toricus was a rough place
inhabited by rough men, and the village stood in a little valley at
the edge of the Forest. The villagers had built a thick wooden
stockade around the village, strengthening their defenses further
with a ditch lined with sharpened stakes, but that hadn’t been
enough to save them. The gate had been torn down, and lay in
shattered pieces across the ditch. Inside the stockade the houses
had been built of fieldstone and thatch, but all of them now
burned, flames billowing from their interiors. Ridmark saw no sign
of any corpses, but that did not surprise him. Vhaluuskan orcs or
dvargir warriors would have left the corpses to rot where they had
fallen.

The orcs of the Forest would
have taken the dead back as offerings to Qazalask.

Ridmark crossed the little
wooden bridge into the village, the scent of smoke filling his
nostrils, and made his way to the village square. A stone church
stood on the other end of the square, likely the first building
ever raised in Toricus, flames billowing from its roof. He thought
the fires had been set no more than two or three hours ago.
Certainly it could not have been very long, not if the orc he had
killed outside the walls had been any indication. Likely the
Qazaluuskan orcs had attacked the village and carried its people
into captivity, and the orc that Ridmark had killed had been
waiting to catch any stragglers…

“You!”

Ridmark whirled.

A man staggered from one of
the smoldering buildings. He was about forty, with rough features
and the thick arms and callused palms of a blacksmith. He wore a
leather apron over his tunic, a graying beard shading his jaw and
chin.

The man carried a massive
iron hammer.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” said
the blacksmith, pointing the hammer. “You brought the orcs
here!”

Ridmark shook his head. “I
haven’t visited Toricus for years.” The last time he had been a
Swordbearer, riding a splendid horse and wearing fine armor, the
soulblade Heartwarden at his belt. He supposed that he looked
different now.

“I see the brand,” said the
blacksmith. There was dried blood on his left temple. Ridmark
suspected the man had taken a blow to the head and fallen
unconscious, only to wake up to see his village in flames. “That’s
the brand of a coward and an exile. I’ll wager you allied with the
bone orcs to betray us!”

“No,” said Ridmark, raising
his staff. “I just arrived. I will help you, if you wish, but I did
not…”

“Die, traitor!” roared the
blacksmith, raising his hammer over his head and rushing
forward.

Ridmark tensed, preparing to
dodge the blow. He would try to get the blacksmith off his feet,
try to make him see reason. He didn’t want to kill the man…

The blacksmith went rigid,
his eyes bulging, a strange flicker of ghostly blue flame snarling
around him. For a moment Ridmark thought the blacksmith had caught
fire, but the pale blue flame gave off no heat, and for that matter
the blacksmith didn’t appear to be burning. Instead he seemed
paralyzed, his muscles clenched, his teeth gritted, his eyes
darting back and forth.

A pair of Qazaluuskan orcs
appeared from between two burning houses. One looked a great deal
like the orc Ridmark had killed outside of the village, adorned
with the same war paint of white and black and carrying an axe. The
second orc looked older, and wore more amulets. In his right hand
he held a mummified human forearm, the fingers hooked into withered
claws. Pale blue fire danced around the dead fingers.

The older Qazaluuskan orc was
a wizard or a shaman, and the dead hand was a talisman of some
kind. The stunned blacksmith had blocked their view of Ridmark, but
that would only last another few seconds.

“Bind him,” said the older
orc.

“He must have been hiding,”
snarled the younger orc. “There may be others. We should…”

“Bind him,” snapped the older
orc. “His blood and heart shall fuel our prayers to the Lord of
Bones, and his body shall make a vessel for the god’s power…”

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