"Where are we going?" young Burzak asked his father.
"There's an Orc I want you to meet, before you make up your mind."
Burzak lowered his brows, making his expression even more stubborn "It's made up. Uruk were made for fighting, not toiling in the mines. Who's this Orc anyway? Some foreman who's gonna tell me how rich I could get swinging a pick?"
The older Orc shook his head. "You're gonna meet a legend today, lad. One of the last survivors of Helm's Deep. One of the original Fighting Uruk Hai."
Burzak followed his father into the low, dark, smoky bar, making their way to a table near the back. He looked up at the banners hung on the walls. The Unblinking Red Eye, the White Hand, the Death's Head Moon of Morgul. Proud banners, banners carried into battle against the hated Men and Elves.
And today he was going to meet an Orc who'd been there. Back in the glory days, when Men trembled at the rumor of Orcs, not like now, when the warbands no longer struck terror into the countryside, but scraped a living from these holes in the hills. No better than the Dwarves.
"Burzak," said his father. "This is Grondash. He can tell you something about the old days."
The old orc turned on his stool and looked at Burzak through one yellow eye. He wore a patch over the other one. A pale, jagged scar ran down from his forehead, disappeared beneath the patch then emerged to run over his cheekbone. His muscles were still big and bulky, hard as oak. He hissed in pain as he shifted his weight.
"Long day in the mines," he said. "All the old joints ache. I have to work harder with the right arm. Can't raise the left over my head anymore. Not since that arrow in the shoulder at Helm's Deep."
"You were there?" asked Burzak. "I thought you were in the band that captured the halflings."
"I was in both, lad. I ran with Captain Ugluk, when they sent us out to find the halflings. Ran across the whole of that cursed plain of those strawhead horseboys, weighed down with scum from Lugburz and whining rats from the mines of Moria. Slowed us down, and not worth a damn in a fight. Most of them ran off before the final stand, not that they'd have made a damn difference anyway.
"Did you know those sorry bastards started a rumor that us Uruk were part Man and part Orc? Like we'd breed with those nasty, soft, white things. Disgustin'. They just wanted to bring us down because we were taller, broader, stronger than the run of the mill cave rats and slinking backshooters from Lugburz. They'd put the Red Eye badge on a boar if it would bow and scrape for "em. Nah, we were bigger and stronger because old Saruman only recruited the best. And we trained hard, built muscle. And we ate well. Better than the other ragtag tribes or half disciplined warbands.
"Ugluk's company were the best of the best. That's why I fought my way to join "em. For the glory and the promise of man flesh thrown to us by the White Hand." He paused, gave a twisted, bitter smile and took another pull from his tankard. "Never did eat much of that."
He rubbed at his scar and continued. "I broke through the strawheads' lines the night before they attacked. Made it to Mauhur and his lads, led them in to try to break a path for Ugluk and the rest, but there were too many Men. The horses can smell us in the dark even if the filthy whiteskins are useless and blind without the Yellow Face.
"So after you escaped from the strawheads, then what?"
"Well, like a good soldier, I reported back to Isengard. Told my officer about the mission. That we'd had two halflings, but the horseboys overran us, wiped out the company. All they wanted to know about was the filthy stunty prisoners. Were they taken bu the enemy? Did they escape? Did Ugluk or that wiry sneak from Lugburz take them? Did anybody take anything from them? No a word about our losses, or if any more of us might have fought clear, or even about my eye."
His hand moved unconsciously toward the patch. He shook his head.
"You were wounded and you went back to war?" asked Burzak.
The old Uruk laughed. "A little thing like this? Nah, that weren't enough to get you out of duty back in the day. Orc medicine was good. Oh, we didn't worry about scars, or water it down to keep it from stinging like those stinking Elves did, but it stopped the bleeding and the fever, got you back up and into the fight. My archery never were the same, but get close enough to grab your enemy by the belt buckle and a little lack of depth perception isn't so big a deal. But it probably kept me from seeing that archer and getting my shield up in time. Might not have had the attention to spare anyway, what with that mad Beardo whipping that axe around."
He gestured with his tankard and raised an eyebrow. Burzak's father nodded to the bartender, who refilled it.
"Thank'ee." said the veteran. "That arrow knocked me down, and the battle swept past me, on into the caves. Could've used some o' those Moria rats then.
"But then it all went sour. The whiteskins found their balls and made a counter-attack. Mounted, which the bosses didn't expect from an enemy in a fortress. We thought it might happen, since those bastards loved their horses, but the bosses weren't hearin' it. Some wizard turned up with reinforcements, including a bleedin' enchanted forest." he shook his head as he remembered. "That took the wind out of me, I'll give "em that."
"So what did you do then?" asked Burzak.
"I got out. Couldn't do much with my left arm hangin' and pour blood by the pint."
"You escaped through the Forest of Death?"
"Not a chance. Don't think anybody got out that way. Bloody trees grab and clutch, squeeze the life out of you. No orc got through there. Of course, they let Saruman go free after they tore Isengard apart. No mercy for the orc who carries the spear, but freedom for the wizard who set the war in motion. Nobody takes an orc prisoner." he fixed Burzark with his one, burning eye. "Remember that, lad, if you are set to march off to war. Nobody will show you quarter. And it's not like they even eat us or make weapons from out bones, like another orc would, show respect to the vanquished, let the spirit live on. No, they'll just burn the body or let it rot."
Burzak swallowed, steadied himself. "But you survived."
"I lay among the dead and waited for the whiteskins to pass by, then I got up and hobbled off the way they'd come. Kept to the shadows, hid out in burned out farms when the Yellow ace was up and the strawheads went hunting. Moved at night when they clustered around their fires. Made it to the mines after a few days. I was an outsider, and hurt, but I was still big and strong, and scarred. Told them they could give me food an medicine and a place to stay and they'd gain a strong worker. Or they could try to kill me and see how many orcs they felt like mourning that day. I was done running."
"So that's how you came to be here?"
"Aye. Another lesson for you. When you don't fear death any more, folks will often be too scared to give it to you."
Burzak's father thanked the old Uruk, paying his tab and leaving a few more coins on the bar. "Well, at least you've met a veteran of the great war. Give you some perspective to make your choice."
Burzak hesitated, thinking on al he'd heard. "I know there's a place for me in the mines, but Grashnak's offering a lot of loot. The Stunties are mining again. They have plenty of wealth. They say it could be our for the taking."
Apparently the old Uruk had overheard. "Sounds like a good deal. I was only promised Man flesh."
Sean Danet is immortal—a fact he has cloaked for centuries, behind enemy lines and now a paramedic’s uniform. Having forgotten most of his distant past, he has finally found peace. But there are some things you cannot escape, however much distance you put behind you.Buy Now
Immortal Sean Danet can heal others with a touch. Finally, after too long as a rootless vagabond, he has found a place he feels he belongs, with friends he can trust and the love of an intelligent, beautiful woman. The life he dreamed of but never expected to attain.Buy Now
Short Historical Adventures
One of the problems with being immortal is you get to live through all of history's most famous blunders. Like Napoleon's inspired idea for a land war in Asia. If you love historical military fiction, action and adventure, or just one of the sexiest urban fantasy heroes of all, Advancing on Paris is a must.Buy Now
Semper Fidelis. The motto of the United States Marine Corps. On the ragged edges of civilization, Corporal Michael Collins has lived those words, taking on riots and evacuations, rebels and terrorists. Asteroid belt patrol is just another deployment. Ninety nine percent boredom, one percent terror.Buy Now
The city of Laimrig, once a mighty hub of commerce and a seat of power sinks into corruption and decay. Slavers, crime lords and corrupt officials hold sway while the ruling nobility wallow in decadence. War rages beyond the borders, while within rebellion simmers and sinister plots unfold.Buy Now