New Beginnings and the End of an Epoch
Weeks passed on the open waters, as the relentless sound of waves crashed into the hull of an orc warship, in the belly of the longboat rowed some thirty odd slaves; one, in particular, was an elven woman who only remembered the life of slavery. For as far back as she could remember she was and is a slave. She sat quietly and somberly, her hair cut short, black with dirt, blood, and just about anything else that would get caught in it. Her skin pale, almost bleached white, hadn’t seen much sun in many a year. Her clothes barely a tattered rag, she reached down with a slender hand, rubbing her foot that was bound in an iron shackle, as pain shot down her arms; pain that lingered from the long spouts of rowing. She was thankful the man beside her was still strong enough to hide her shortcomings; he had only been dragged aboard maybe a week ago, two tops.
‘Hunger barks at me,’ she thought, ‘though I dare not eat the retched meat they give to us’ the meat would come nearly every time a slave was sent to their death. ‘Not sure the others care where it comes from so I dare not say anything.’ The elf kept to herself as much as possible, enjoying the stale bread instead; ‘it’s much safer than the meat of the dead.’
Months on the open water has sent the pain down, now taken to her feet, fear that the voyage will take them gripped at her, knowing it almost certainly would if it doesn’t end soon. The hulking beasts that command the captured slaves to never cease to row were lead by a fearsome and strong orc known by the name of Xugug, his armor was noticeable in design by the large human skull that sat fixed to the bindings across his chest, it held a spiked pauldron over his right shoulder, a vicious scimitar rested in its scabbard at his side. He strode the deck commanding his troops in his native tongue, a speech no longer foreign to her. Though she knew it was easier not understanding, their speech as most often harsh, filled with violent words, never polite, not even to each other. The names for things; they rang like curses in her pointed ears.
‘Morning,’ the elf thought to herself as she was awoken from a feverish dream, ‘at least I think its morning’, the ship lurched to a stop, ‘did we run ashore?’ she wondered. Struggling to approach the other survivors, a hushed clamor of a beach, they found a small crack to gather around, fighting for a chance to see into the outside world. Not bothering to see for herself she returned to her place of rest lest she is punished. Suddenly Xugug bellowed down into the hold, “All right you worthless scum! Winter is near and I must have my grog! I’mma gointa’ sell you to whoever is willing to buy ya filthy worthless lot!”
The slaves were all dragged out from their cage, chained together in groups of threes; out into the blinding autumn sunlight. The elf held out her hand protecting her unnaturally black eyes from the shock of the sunlight, eyes completely black as if they were replaced by a thick smoke, or a nights sky absent from any stars. At times even the orcs were unnerved looking into them, unsure if they looked back. At times this uncured extra beating, other times it staved them off. Once off the small landing boat, she stumbled to the ground, her feet unsure if their new footing, all too used to the sway of the ship. Quickly she looked around to see if she was the only to stumble, this was really the first time she took notice of the half-cat, young girl with deep orange hair with ears of a tiger, orange stripped tattoos’ adorned her tanned skin all the way to her cat tail that had the similar dark stripes, who was at the other end of the chain and the small gnome girl that was between them. The same one that held a relentlessly positive attitude thought her short time on the ship, bright green eyes and cascading purple hair that bounced past her shoulders. Struggling to get back to her feet it was unclear to her if the others had been pushed down or tripped. The solid terra firma seemed so foreign.
The slaves were promptly moved to a large shaded area where they were counted and fed again. The small gnome handed a piece of meat to the elf who felt she had to refused it, there was no guarantee where the meat had come from “What’s your name?” asked the gnome.
She blinked in confusion; no name was given from or to her in as far back as she could remember. “I don’t remember. I have no name to give.”
“My name is Maebh,” she said with a smile, stopping to ponder. Looking up and down at the elf an idea jumped to her, “let’s call you Brenna, yes, that will do. Hi Brenna.”
The name didn’t sound right to Brenna, but at least it was better than slave, or worse. Brenna shied away as Maebh started to talk with the cat-girl who gave the name Firia after a little prodding from the curious gnome. It wasn’t long before one of the younger orc women started to come near the prisoners, as she approached the gnome called out to her as quietly as she dared, “Hey Sharn, Sharn, it’s me Maebh” the orc approached quietly, “Hey Sharn, why are we here, what’s going to happen with us next?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she responded plainly, “I’ll go find out” The exchange between the two was surprisingly simple, but earnest. Brenna kept her head down hoping they wouldn’t go through with their plan, as images of past slaves who were murdered before her very eyes flashed in her mind, murdered for just speaking with her. She hid her face as tears rolled down her cheeks. Quiet tears that went unnoticed.
When Sharn returned the two continued to discuss a way to escape the camp, plotting with an idea centered around using some of the plants around them to concoct a sleeping potion to put the guards to sleep.
‘I think they’re going to get someone killed’ Brenna thought to herself, ‘but if I say anything, try and have them stopped, then they will be the ones killed’ looking up into the sky, night was coming fast as evening approached, she spoke a soft prayer for their protection and safety.
Brenna was awoken to Sharn shaking her gnome friend Maebh awake, “The guards are asleep, it worked, the potion worked” Quickly she unlocked the child-sized restraint that was on her leg, the iron falling to the ground with a small thud, and handed Maebh the keys she lifted from the sleeping orcs, and with a click of the lock the elf was free.
‘Maebh, just freed me?’ she thought in shock, ‘What’s happening?’ “What’s going to happen to us? what’s going on?” she spoke too quietly to hard by the others. A strong morning fog quickly started to sweep in from the open water; it surrounded the camp and started to overtake the entire area.
Maebh quickly turned to Firia and unlocked her as well, just as a drunken Xugug approached them. “Hey you, Sharn was it?” he bellowed with his slurred speech. “What are you doing over here with these filthy slaves?” He took a few steps closer as he talked, now standing right in front of the Brenna, swinging his arm at her; she flinched with the hit, her body moved as it would when being struck by such a monster but no pain accompanied the blow. ‘Did he miss’ she wondered, lying there still and unmoving, catching hold of her fear she slowly looked in horror at what transpired next.
“Look I found the guards sleeping while these slaves remained unaware,” replied Sharn.
This infuriated the orc slave master who promptly marched over to the now fast asleep guards. Firia grabbed hold of what had just been the shackle around her own leg and snapped the clasp onto Xugug’, while he was distracted and kicking the sleeping guards demanding that they resume their post.
Sharn walked up to her boss as he turned to stare at her, “your letting them escape aren’t you?” he asked accusingly. Not giving her a chance to replay he drew his blade and lashed out, the tip of it drawing blood from her arm.
Furious, Sharn threw a punch that landed itself square in his face and losing balance the two toppled over.
“The slaves are escaping, they’re taking to the boats!” Firia shouted out, as the keys were hurriedly passed from slave to slave as they scrambled to unlock themselves and escape into the woods, the thick fog made the ruse believable as the commander rallied his troops to action.
Suddenly Brenna felt herself running ‘why?’ she asked herself, ‘where?’ The small hand of Maebh’ held onto Brenna’s arm, small and warm, the absence of pain surprised her more, for so long the sensation of touch was associated with pain.
Brenna was on autopilot running away, away from the only life that she could remember, still unable to remember anything beyond this life. There was one before but all she could remember… Her mind trailed off as the forest consumed her and her thoughts.
Awake yet feeling as if still in a dream, Brenna found herself roused by the pleasant sounds of the forest echoing throughout the trees; “it’s so peaceful out here,” she said in a hushed awe, taking in the surroundings. Though she paused as she looked down at mud encrusted arms and legs, in fact, the mud covered every square inch of her body. The memory of last night's escape flooded back into her mind.
Last night as they fled the vicious from their captors, sounds of the orc dogs could be heard in relentless pursuit as they ran north. The group composed of an elf, gnome, orc and a half-cat girl stumbled upon a mostly dried up riverbed. The idea was suggested by Firia to cover-up their scent in mud, hiding them from the pursuing dogs. They traveled along the drier sections of the river until it turned more eastern. It was decided that they would try to make their way to the village or town that Sharn told them about that lay in a more western direction. Taking a few simple measures to hide their tracks as they went deeper into the brush. They traveled until they found shelter and camped in the mouth of a cave.
After some scavenged fruit and berries that were almost overripe, the small group continued their journey to the west. Sometime later, they found the road that they believed they had been looking for. They traveled just off the path to remain unnoticed. The sound of hooves could be heard approaching rather quickly, and then the riders stopped allowing the horses to get a drink from a small puddle. Sharn and Firia approached quietly discovering that the riders were other orcs.
“I’ll go see what I can find out,” Sharn told the others; as she motioned to them to wait as she left to get some answers.
As this happened Brenna noticed Maebh looking around a carved stump curious she reached in and retrieved what looked to be an old ornate statue, possibly some sort of goddess or prominent figure.
A feeling suddenly washed over Brenna that compelled her to pray over her newfound friend. ‘I’ll just do just that,’ she thought to herself. Laying her hands on Maebh she asked for healing of her wounds and pain, that she would be of good health. A strong sense of accomplishment washed over her as she finished her prayer. One that was strengthened by the gnome, who turned around and gave the biggest hug she could to Brenna.
Brenna couldn’t help but return the embrace, feeling as if the two were given a deeper connection at that moment. One that she recognized to mean more to here than some sort of master or ownership, by another. This was something natural and kind by nature, a feeling that Brenna wanted to repeat one day.
Sharn returned to the others, but Brenna couldn’t pay attention to what was said, her mind kept comparing her last life in captivity to the one she was currently in. The differences felt so drastically that the contrast was hard to comprehend.
She found herself sitting beside a field, alone but not forgotten. She could see the others talking to someone, but found it easier to poke around in the dirt, another root to chew on, surprisingly better than stale bread, ‘I like this food of the earth,’ Brenna thought to herself. ‘I wonder what else the earth can give up to these small hands of mine. I’m not enjoying all this mud,’ she looked down as chunks of dirt fell to the ground. ‘It’s gone everywhere,’ she pondered over the alternative ‘but it’s better than being caught by the dogs.’ Swallowing the last bite she rejoined the others as they finished piling wood into the cart of the woodcutter. This area was a clearing that was used to gather lumber, possibly for a coming winter.
Following the cart back to town, the four took notice of a creek that ran under a small bridge just before entering the town. Maebh turned to the others, “I think it’s best that we enter into town during the cover of nightfall.” No one posed any objection and nightfall was descending on them quickly.
Firia stood next to the bridge looking down at the running water, “I don’t think we should wash ourselves just yet. The dirt,” she gestured to the others “well you’re all harder to spot looking like you do now.”
“But,” Brenna paused gently kicking at the bank of the creak, “I was really hoping to be clean before bed.”
“Brenna, there’s no guarantee that we find a place to sleep. What do you think we’ll just wander into the first building we come across and we’ll find somewhere comfortable to sleep?” Firia scolded.
“Well, no…” Brenna sat down clutching her knees. “I guess not.”
“Firia, don’t be too hard on her, I think we all wouldn’t mind a bed to sleep in, soft or otherwise.” Maebh peeked over the edge of the embankment looking towards the town. “Besides, now may be as good of a time as any, everyone has gone away from this area, maybe their going to a central eating area?”
Sharn was enjoying watching the exchange, she found it fascinating. But that last statement made sense. “Then what are we waiting for, shall we?” She didn’t wait for an answer and started on her way. The others followed until they came beside a dark building on the edge of town.
Brenna found herself standing by the door to the quiet building and slowly opened the door. The door moved unhindered, no lock or bar prevented entry. The room was dark and Maebh marched right on in, quickly finding a lantern on a table she was easily able to find flint to light it. The lantern ignited as a dim light impregnated the room, filling most of it with a soft warm light.
Immediately the young woman started to rummage around, finding various articles of clean clothing, Maebh was the first to strip down, removing the heavy mud-soaked clothes. She watched as large chunks of dirt flaked off.
Brenna hesitated at first, remembering the scars that ran up and down her back, she feared how the others might react if they saw them. Looking around she saw that everyone was now busy tying on different articles of clothes, looking for the right fit that suited their needs. Keeping her back towards the wall she threw down her dirty clothes with surprising satisfaction, and quickly pulled on some others that looked like they would fit. Her hand found a robe near the bottom of the pile, with a quick tug it came free. This was certainly something that she wanted to wear, it wasn’t to fancy but it looked quite comfortable. She pulled it over her shoulders and pulled the hood over her pointed ears, it didn’t pinch. She smiled to herself, “I feel like a new woman, It’s nice to be wearing something clean and new.” She spoke quietly, hearing some affirmation from the others but they were all more focused on their own finds.
The robe was brown and fairly plain, parts of it hugged her body enough to stay in place as she moved around, while other parts were a bit on the larger side, a smidge too big. Noticing something hard in one of the pockets she dug her hands in, inside it was a sling. Taking note she left it in the pocket. Once everyone was satisfied with their findings the group made their way back to the creak and quickly bathed.
The water was cool and satisfying, as it ran over Brenna’s skin, it pleased her to watch the mud and dirt fade away. Dark lines trailed away from her body, moving away from the others she found a deeper spot where she could submerge herself completely, and once under let out the longest scream she could, thrashing around under the water. Waiting for a bit and then slowly let her head pop up above the water. The others were enjoying the bathing and took no notice of what she was doing. Satisfied that no one would inquire to her about this time, she did a final check to see that she was as clean as she could get and made her way back to the others.
Quickly she put her clothes back, “I hope no one objects, but I’m heading to bed.”
Firia looked up at Brenna, her ears twitching as they flicked off the water that was beading down them, “Right behind you Bre’ just let me dry off a sec.” Standing up she stood off to the side keeping a little distance and shook almost violently, the water showered away from her as the fur on her tail puffed up. Grabbing her new clothes she tossed them on and was at Brenna’s side ready to go back with her.
The two cautiously returned to the abandoned building that they had claimed as their own finding spots to sleep in, they fashioned a few beds out of the piles of clothes and Brenna curled up in a ball amongst the clothes and drifted off to sleep.
“Hey, hey, look out!” a man in armor stood amongst three owlbears, fighting them off something fierce, “You know what you have to do!”
Brenna woke up with a start, sweat beading down her brow, reaching up she pulled her hood low over her eyes and stumbled up. Slowly she stretched as she quietly moved about. The others were already stirring from their slumber. Firia and Maebh started discussing plans as Sharn moved about preparing for their departure.
A short time later they stood outside surveying the area, Sharn had gathered some information on a marshland that was up ahead in the direction they intended to go. The orc army that had departed from this area had taken a route on the shore intending to go around the marshland. It was decided that they would venture through the marshes instead. Maybe use the bridge as a raft someone suggested.
Taking a look around, Brenna noticed a cart that was currently unused, and not too far from it was a horse that looked to be unwatched. “What do I have to lose?” She asked more to herself than anyone else. Sneaking off, she acted as if she belonged here and calmly walked up to the horse, keeping her head down and covered she moved over and started to hitch up the cart. A few orcs that were on patrol stopped to watch her as she busily finished her work and without a word she led the horse and cart off to the others.
Firia, Maebh, and Sharn seemed a little surprised that Brenna came through with such a thing, but hey, it beats snagging a bridge. Maebh secured some food while Firia and Sharn some tools, then they headed out. Back on the open trails, they traveled in a fair amount of silence until the farms spread out a ways from each other; and coming to what looked to be a beet field they stopped. Maebh and Sharn approached a lowly farmer who was harvesting his crop, hoping to find out more on where they were and what lay ahead of them.
Firia shrugged without a care and stretched herself out, with a quiet yawn she began her cat nap and was sleeping before Brenna could ask a question, it wasn’t important anyways she concluded. Looking around the young elf spotted some sprouts beside the cart, dropping down she unearthed one and looked at it puzzlingly, this was certainly an odd looking root? Taking a sniff, she only remained more puzzled before wiping off the dirt and with a shrug took a bite. The sensation sent a spark down her spine, one that wiggled its way all the way to her pinky toe. The taste was serendipitous, she had to have some for the others, quickly she looked around for more signs of the bulbous vegetables, spotting a few more around her she quickly took another bite and started gathering some more. Before she knew it she had her arms full of beets holding her first in her mouth, the juices dribbling down her chin. She placed them gently in the cart near the other food supplies and took a seat beside her sleeping friend.
Firia’s nose twitched at the sensation of a new scent lingering beside her, opening one eye she looked at the juice that had gathered on Brenna’s chin and arched an eyebrow at her.
Taking another bite Brenna pointed at the small pile in the back, not daring to try and talk with her mouth full of beet. Firia nodded in approval and grabbed one for herself and started to devour it. A smile could be seen if but for a moment before she too was engrossed in beet eating.
The two looked at each other mid-chew and chuckled pointing at each other’s chins that now both had beet juice making its way down them.
The others came back a short time thereafter, and hearing some giggles looked at each other inquisitively then at the cart, then back over their shoulders at the farmer; he wasn’t paying them any further attention. Climbing into the cart, was easy for Sharn, but it took a bit for Maebh who refused to ask for help, at least not at first, after the third failed attempt at climbing up she locked eyes with the orc who when standing, stood almost double her own height. “Mind helping me up?” saying this while trying to sound positive wasn’t too hard, but there were times that Maebh new being taller would have its advantages.
“I was curious if you would ask,” she replied plainly. Reaching down with one hand she lifted the small gnome into the air and placed her on the cart, “I find it fascinating that you don’t demand it, from my experiences others as strong-willed as you wouldn’t allow their weaknesses to be shown to others unless inebriated of course.”
“I’ll find a way on my own next time, I did it before. It’s not a weakness being this size!” Maebh gestured to herself, but she wasn’t sure how else she should respond. Though she knew there was one way that would be the best. Now that they were miles away from any other orcs it was time to sing a song, one filled with wondrous story. Pulling out her lute that she had liberated from last night temporary home, she turned it upside down on her lap and used it for compression as she started signing an epic tale.
The horse pulled their cart further into the wilderness, as Maebh’s song told a story of the stars being born, trees covering the land, and the gnomish nation moving to new lands. The story talked about a great ship that sailed through the blackest of nights, with only a flame as its heading. Adventure was around every corner.
Something about this story struck out a memory that was held in the depths of the elf’s mind one that moved its way forward with every word. The melody coaxed it to the tip of her tongue and just as the song came to an end, there it was. Triumphantly She stood up throwing back the hood that hid her face from the others, revealing shoulder-length coppery red hair that danced around her pointed ears in the sunlight. “Elesandra!” she shouted, looking at the others who returned her look with confused eyes.
“Not Brenna, my name, I remember my name!” Elesandra formerly Brenna bubbled with excitement, almost jumping up and down if it wasn’t for the moving cart on a barely if ever used dirt trail.
“Well, isn’t that just great, I was getting used to her being black haired and Brenna,” Firia retorted.
“What? Elesandra’s a pretty name.” Maebh looked and the cat girl with a stern and confused look.
“Yes, it just means I have to now remember that name,” with a shrug her tail darting back and forth. “Of course it’s a pretty name. Firia slumped in her spot unsure of this new information, and what it really meant to her.
Looking back at Elesandra, who blushed almost as deep as her hair was red quickly taking a seat once again. “So red hair under all that dirt.”
Sharn examined the elf from her seat, “I’m surprised there was still color to be shown, I mean to be hidden and black. You must have had a year’s worth of dirt up there.” This fact amazed the orc, she had never met someone who could hide her hair color before. These girls had so many new things to teach her, she just had observed more. “This is so exciting!”
Much discussion centered around various foods each would like to eat, now that they were free. Maebh insisted that the others learn one of her songs, and the group made way, further into the trees as they started nearing the marsh land. Darkness was descending upon them and a wide river lay before them. Choosing to make camp for the night the four settled in around a fire that Sharn got going rather quickly.
Taking out her loot once more Maebh started a new song, this one rang with a resonance of its own, unique and peaceful. It felt like it moved through the body, as if it found those places of pain and caressed them into nothingness.
Elesandra found the music to lift up her spirits some more, forgetting about the pain in her foot that had remained over the past month. The pain now gone, as if the music itself had taken the very thing that caused it away. Stretching and getting back on her feet she found herself swaying to the music, almost dancing to it; reaching out a hand to Firia she motioned for her to join.
Hesitantly she got up as the elf grabbed her and Sharn’s hands pulling them to dance with the music, it wasn’t long and the three were laughing, and enjoying the music as they danced until the song came to an end.
“Thanks, I never thought I’d ever dance again,” Elesandra said with a grin as she moved next to stand next to the horse, stroking its main. “Though I’ve been thinking about what we should do about this beautiful animal. Once we run out of road we can’t take the horse past the river can we? Should not consider our food supply,” she hesitated before speaking the next words. A look of dread came across Maebh’s face, as if knowing what would be said next.
“Just,” she paused for a moment, “I just think about how much food we could have if we used the horse, shouldn’t we at least consider it? Even if only for a moment?”
Sharn nodded, “This is a good idea,” and before anyone could interject, she picked up a large branch that looked more like a club and with it struck the horse. The animal fell dead with one single blow. It wasn’t long and she had several steaks on the fire, the roasted smell of meat chased off any regret from all but Maebh, who made it perfectly clear that she did not want to eat horse.
The food was so delicious, they enjoyed a steak or two, maybe even three, and just as Sharn rended a leg to cook next, glowing eyes emerged from the edge of the night, growling animals emerged from the forest bearing vicious and sharp teeth. A pack of hungry wolves moved towards the girls.
Firia counted out four pairs that approached, and without warning Maebh changed the beat of her music starting another song, the three girls felt their blood pumping as adrenalin readied them for battle.
Dropping the leg Sharn held, she spun around quickly and grabbed a large flaming log, just in time to level it across the back of a wolf that charged at her. “I’ll make you my dessert, just try me, small dog!”
“What do I do?” Elesandra started to panic, the only thing that kept her together seemed to be the song, but there wasn’t time to think of that. One of the other wolves charged at her brandishing its razor teeth, but with elvin grace she managed to avoid the bloodthirsty knives. As she came about she managed to retrieve her own log from the fire, closing her eyes she swung, and with a loud crack, as if the fire had a mind of its own the stick burst in a shower of sparks, fire erupted and enveloped the very skull of the wolf. Fire spewed from its eyes that had been vaporized, the poor beast fell to the ground collapsing in a lifeless lump. Its partner, startled backe off on its attack, taking a more cautious approach at her.
Suddenly vines shot from the ground, spreading themselves all over the wolf, creating a leafy cage and ensnaring him in its tracks, looking around Elesandra is struck with amazement as she sees Firia holding her arm up as if she commanded the vines themselves, her gaze transfixed on the trapped wolf. Spotting a chance Elesandra grabs a nearby stone and her sling, taking aim she sends it loose at the trapped wolf. The stone flew true finding it’s mark between the vines, rattleing about in the cage as it pelted the animal, if but only to annoy it more than anything.
One of the other wolves let out a long howl, as if calling for reinforcements, Firia answered this call with one of her own, extending her spine as she stretched out, bringing forth a chilling cat-like roar that sounded menacing, overpowering the very call of the wolf.
Elesandra felt a chill run down her spine as she listened to Firia’s battle cry, it was like nothing else she had heard before.
Sharn struggled with a wolf that had latched onto her arm, and one hand she clasped down on the back of the brutes head, squeezing the animal let go from its attack with a yelp. “Now you call that an attack? No, bad dog!” With a shake she moved her hands to either side of the animal and pulled with such force the creature split into two separate chunks.
The elf shook herself from the gruesome sight, all fear seemed to have washed away. “Wow Sharn, just wow…” shaking her head, Elesandra reevaluated her surroundings. What was left of the wolves retreated into the darkness, their whining could be heard trailing off into the distance until it faded into nothingness. She looked down to realize her hands were shaking, and dropped to her knees, exhaling softly. “Firia, what was that? With the vines, was that you?”
Firia blinked, as she helped Sharn start to skin one of the wolf carcass, “magic of course, you’ve seen magic before? Haven’t you?”
“Well, I…” Elesandra looked around almost nervously, as if she had lost something, unfortunately she had. “I don’t remember much, not before all this.”
“Enslavement?” Maebh asked sitting beside her. “How long did they have you?”
“The orcs? Not long, maybe a month or two, three I think, but the masters before, I… I don’t remember.” Shaking her head as if to loose the cobwebs that had clogged up the gears, she tapped and knocked, but nothing came out.
Resting her hand on Elesandra’s shoulder Maebh started to sing another song, one she felt would comfort them as they grew tired.
With meat smoking over the fire, Elesandra drifted off to sleep watching the flame of the fire flicker and dance as Maebh hummed some song, holding a warm cup of some sort of root tea that Sharn had concocted. Firia had curled up beside the orc who slept with her back against a tree. In the morning they would venture across the river and into the marshland that awaited for them.