****** PROLOGUE ******
Daylight faded from Skara Brea, as gathered shadows begrudgingly yielded to freshly lit candles in "The Shattered Skull' tavern. The pub's common room slowly filled with Britannia's colorful inhabitants. After ensuring all his patron's were supplied with their meals, the gruff innkeeper announced a storytelling as the evening entertainment. He waved a robe-enshrouded man toward the stage.
The speaker seated himself beside the tavern's fireplace, lit his pipe, and began weaving his tale. "Gather near friends and strangers from afar, for I, Megilhir, shall relate a tale most unique. Tis indeed a tale of virtue, if in an unusual manner. This saga comes to my ears from a far distant land, known as Atlantic. Pay now heed to the tale of Palar the Just and the Orc named Razraoug."
****** CHAPTER I ******
Palar the Just arose from his warm bed to feel cool sandstone tiles under his bare feet. The sun was not yet high enough to warm the nearby sands of Britiania's desert. With a slight shudder he crossed the floor to a clothing armoire. He swiftly dressed in the fading chill of the forest morning.
After a morning repast of cheese and oven fresh bread from his resident chef, Lois, Palar climbed the rope ladder to his roof. A gentle morning breeze caused roses, from long gone friends and compatriots, to whisper slightly as it eased through their dried petals. Chicken and sheep could be heard nearby as the small blue holiday bell chimed faintly, adding it's trilling tone to the morning orchestra. On the outside patio he could hear Connor begin an inventory of the daily goods for sale. Another day was upon Britannia.
Enjoying the last vestiges of a rare, pink vintage, Palar pondered over a rough map showing the state of the realm. His eyes fell upon a small valley betwixt Yew and Skara Brae. Orcs!! Recent rumor of a new orc settlement within the vale had reached his ears. The tellings spoke of orcs establishing a fortification within a cave at the end of the remote valley. Nor were these orcs the average nomadic clans and groupings that made temporary camps throughout the realm. They were said to be stronger, swifter afoot and highly trained in combative skills. Palar recalled overhearing nervous travelers whisper frightened tales as he dined upon fresh pumpkin pie at Skara Brae's renown Shattered Skull tavern. There had been kidnappings of peasants and nobles alike by the vermin overrunning the vale. Wandering healers, beholden to none yet friendly to all, were said to have been slain outright. Their half gnawed corpses left to decay, unburied in the wild. Remembering how that fact had enraged him, caused Palar's decision. He would go to the vale. He would restore the sanctity of the area. Yet again he would lift his sword to defend the oppressed of Britannia.
Unlocking the lid of his metal adventuring chest revealed beautifully crafted armor and weapons. A close friend, known as Noldor Armorer, had crafted Palar the finest warrior implements available. Palar believed Elven blood ran in Noldor's veins. This idea was reinforced as he donned the flexible greenish-hued chain mail tunic. Looking closely at the armor pieces, Palar could see Noldor's distinctive marks. He donned the armor. Stout plate arms, gauntlets and a gorget, combined with a supple chain tunic and leggings were topped by a well-fitted closed helm. Soon he stood clad in shimmering verite armor. Hefting a large heater shield and katana completed his battle dress. Lastly, before closing the chest, Palar placed three large rolls of cloth into his backpack, "Bandages," he thought, "The orcs shall be reluctant to depart."
Emerging from his sandstone home was, as always, invigorating. Once on the patio, Palar briefly inventoried sale items with Connor. Connor had served as Palar's vender for so long that neither recalled when the relationship had begun. Though Connor had occasionally expressed the desire to go horseback riding, he seemed to prefer the quiet life of a merchant. Odd as that preference seemed to Palar, the relationship was mutually beneficial. Palar faced the evils of the land, trolls, daemons and dragons, while Connor sold the treasures Palar brought back from those adventures. Connor also sold weapons and armor made by Noldor. Palar paid Connor's operating expenses and then set off toward the distant vale where dwelt his prey. Orcs!
As Palar emerged from the trees onto the path toward Yew, he smelled the warming breeze wafting the desert's dry, gritty scent past his home. Close by, cradled between barren mountains and a solid line of trees, Britannia's desert teemed with scorpions of giant size and elementals birthed from the earth. Palar had often fought these creatures when their populations had grown beyond the point of the desert's boundaries. An occasional battle had even waged upon his very doorstep. That was infrequent, but troublesome. Palar had since hired Gracie to guard his home while he was away. Lois the Chef and Gracie the Sentry had formed a close friendship and Connor seemed to enjoy their company. With a feeling of pride and determination, Palar left behind the safety of The Whispering Tree and it's trio of staff to begin the arduous march upon the long road to Britiania's defense.
****** CHAPTER II ******
After two days and nights of travel, dawn emerged sluggishly over the wild hinterland. In the distance, wolves howled a forlorn greeting at the ragged day. Brushing off morning frost, Palar lit a small heating lamp and prepared his meager breakfast. He then set to the task of cleaning his armor and katana with an oilcloth. Breaking camp proved difficult. While packing his bedroll, there came a rumbling growl and crash of something large moving through the trees toward him. Dropping the bedroll, Palar lifted his katana, it's edge glittering grimly in the cold morning light.
Roaring, the ogre smashed into view. Using a thick tree branch as a club, it swung wildly at, the now much awake, Palar. Instincts developed during his long struggle to become a recognized Grand Master warrior saved Palar at that moment. As he stepped back to avoid the blow, a snake struck at his heels. A swift rearward sweep of his katana ended the snake's venomous interruption. Turning to face the ogre, Palar raised his shield and surged into battle. It was over in a matter of seconds.
After bandaging a few minor scratches, Palar continued to pack his camp. A quick search of the ogre's corpse yielded a few coins and a chipped bottle containing an orange colored liquid. Experience told Palar that the potion was probably an anti-venom dose. Not entirely sure, he placed the elixir in his pack, saving it for emergency use only. Drawing a dagger, he carved meat from the corpse and left it as food for the wolves he had heard earlier. Following the eastern cliff wall led through the valley mouth. Palar had often hunted deer in this area when he was a lad. He knew the region well and moved into the vale. The area was newly strewn with rubbish. A pungent odor of rotting meat rose from the orc filth. Palar advanced slowly, east down the valley, his exceptionally crafted bow held at the ready. Amidst a rubbish pile he saw the glint of metal. Looking closer, he recognized the insignia ring of a fellow warrior, Seth of Yew. For a moment he stood in silence as a tribute to the fallen Seth. Renewed of purpose, he plunged deeper into the vale.
Then, through the trees ahead, he saw a cauldron weakly bubbling over an ill tended fire. Next to it lay a worn crate and rusted metal chest. The marks of a temporary orc camp. Slowly he began tracking the beasts. Palar did not have long to search. Within minutes he came upon a large, skull-clad orc. The brute wore a rusted coat of ring mail and carried a large double axe. With an unintelligible grunt the monster's body shook from the impact of Palar's first arrow. Turning and charging toward Palar, it bellowed a warning to the rest of the camp, alerting the lesser orcs to the danger. Drawing his katana, Palar readied his footing to receive the orc's charge. With the power to fell a small tree the orc swung his double axe at Palar. Swiftly Palar raised his shield, warding off the blow as he riposted the attack with a solid thrust. Howling with mixed rage and pain, the orc raised his weapon again. Striking swiftly, Palar slashed repeatedly at the orc's arms and legs, slowing its attack. Staggering backward, body bleeding, the orc tried to flee as his fellows ran to his aid. Too late. With a precise stab Palar ended the creature's life.
The remaining orcs hesitated momentarily as they saw their captain fall. Then, with fixed determination, they attacked Palar. Becoming a blur of deadly motion, Palar slashed and cut at his opponents until silence filled the campsite. But something was wrong. He knew these camps usually held more members. After searching the fallen bodies, Palar began to track the crushed earth about the campfire. He soon found a small trail leading off toward the opposite side of the valley mouth. From it's tracks the orc appeared small, yet Palar knew even a small monster was still a monster. With less noise than a fading breeze, Palar resumed the hunt.
****** CHAPTER III ******
Ahead the forest cleared. Palar knew this area as 'the heart' due to the shape made by the opening in the trees. The people of Britannia had long ago held festivals in this glade, before private citizens had built dwellings over it. Other, darker rumors spoke of tamers performing bizarre rituals with animals in this area. Usually Palar had merely traveled through the pasture enroute to other destinations. Yet this time, there in the glade, sat his prey. A small orc, its wicked dagger bare in the sun, knelt before a rabbit. As Palar raised his bow, an unusual feeling made him hold the arrow's flight.
As Palar watched, the orc's clawed fist advanced slowly toward the helpless animal. He saw it's other hand reach into a side pouch and then, much to Palar's great surprise, withdraw a carrot. The orc began to casually slice off portions of carrot and feed the rabbit! It's clawed fist slowly opened and gently began scratching behind the happily nibbling bunny's ears! Momentarily frozen with disbelief, Palar stared as a second rabbit hopped up and received a like treatment. Before his astonished eyes, Palar saw a wretched, smelly, evil orc delightfully feed two little forest bunnies.
As the orc sliced another piece of carrot for a third approaching rabbit, the edge of a katana touched it's exposed jugular.
"What are you playing at here orc?" came the rough question.
The orc looked up into cold, piercing hazel eyes.
"No, kill me not." it pleaded.
"Why do you taunt the woodland creatures, orc?" questioned Palar. "Your kind merely slaughters without remorse."
It scowled at this comment. "My kind merely slaughters you say? What of your kind?"
Palar did not answer so the creature hurriedly continued,
"Orcs are helpless before you and human-kind. Look at the differences between us. You are wearing armor and equipment worth more than my tribe has seen in a year. I wear only this tattered shirt and pants. Yet your kind continues to conduct raids against orcs. My brothers are slain for a mere thirty gold coins and the pittance of their worldly possessions. Even now, I see you carry bags from members of my clan. Do you carry the guilt of their deaths as well?"
Palar stood silently and considered the orc's words. The orc, perhaps achieving an insight of clarity that only comes with impending death, continued his tirade. "What will you do now great warrior? Will you slay me outright? Shall I become yet another nameless victim?"
"Nameless", stammered Palar, "you have a name?"
"Of course I have a name, don't you?"
"Yes, yes of course I have a name, it is just that I never considered an orc as more than a…" Palar's words trailed off.
"Than a what?" accused the orc, "A hideous monster? A terror to all civilized peoples?"
"Well, yes actually." responded Palar as he lowered his katana. "I am Palar, known as The Just, and you?"
"I am named Razraoug and I have just reached my coming of age."
Sitting down, but not sheathing his katana, Palar continued the bizarre discussion. "Yet orcs are monstrous are they not? You bathe infrequently. You kidnap and ravage maidens. And you attack humans as soon as you see them? How can you say that these are not evil acts? Is not a being defined by their actions?"
With a sardonic laugh Razraoug replied, "As to the bathing point," he leaned closer to Palar, "You smell none too fresh at the moment."
"But I have been in the wild for two days." Palar objected.
"That was not part of your initial argument." replied Razraoug. "Besides every two days can be considered infrequent at best. That you interrupt me is a sign of poor breeding as well."
Palar glowered silently at the well-made point. He nodded at Razraoug who continued.
"You accuse orcs of kidnapping. In recent times, when have you seen a kidnapped human held by orcs? Never, for human bandits kidnap and blame orcs. All orcs held a grand tribal meeting long ago and decided to stop interaction with human-kind."
Seeing Palar's confused look, Razraoug took a deep breath and plunged on. "When was the last time you heard of an orc-led raid on one of your cities? In the area you call Yew we tried to stop the Great Unnatural from coming, and were driven out by legions of humans. Orcs died by the hundreds and look at Yew now, the Great Unnatural persists there unabated. Even near your settlement of Cove, orcs stay on their side of the mountain. It is the humans that sortie into the orc camp. Human-kind comes with enchanted swords, sharpened spears and fire magics. Never do they come to talk or heal. Nor do they ever suggest a trade exchange or a festival. No, orcs are shunned, except as prey.
In ages past human-kind began to spread lies about my brethren. This made it acceptable for humans to hunt us without feeling guilty. Since that time rumor has become legend, and now that legend is a self-fulfilled prophesy. Young males are slain while on brief forays for food. Orc children are slaughtered on their straw sleeping mats. Orc camps are nomadic by necessity. If we stay too long in one area, we are harvested for our minor possessions. Our homes are continually under attack by greedy humans. Even our hidden underground communities are beset.
We fear humans, for your kind mercilessly hunt us. It is for these reasons orcs often attack first. It is to defend our very lives. Yet even this is ineffectual. For human-kind wear disguises to hide among orcs. Your bards enchant orcs with magical musical, causing them to slay each other in madness. Perhaps the greatest crime is when human-kind uses nature to hunt us. In the misted past orcs dwelt in harmony with all creatures in this land you name Britannia. Before the coming of human-kind, my ancestors could be seen walking and speaking with horses, the large spiders and even great dragons. When have you see an orc battling a creature of nature save for food? Yet members of human-kind subjugate beasts and turn them against us. Humans command docile animals into fits of rage against orcs. Or even worse, they force beasts into an unnatural, servile state and then just abandon the creatures to the wild. All this murder and destruction for a few gold coins. Are these then not acts of evil? Did you not say that a species is defined by its' actions?" Razraoug fell silent.
Palar was deep in thought as he considered his past actions against orcs. "Actions?" he puzzled, "No, injustices may be a more fitting description." Palar stood, lifting his katana.
Seeing this, Razraoug closed his eyes and said, "Farewell Palar, who is known as The Just. Be kind and deliver the blow swiftly that I do not suffer."
Razraoug heard the rasp of the katana and prepared for oblivion. Long seconds passed and still Razraoug did not feel the katanas' bite. Opening his eyes he saw only the movement of bushes where Palar had departed.
"Welcome back good master," greeted Connor. "Was your hunt successful?"
"Aye," replied Palar.
"And what goods would you have me sell for you?" questioned the merchant.
"Goods?" Palar puzzled, "No Connor, I have gathered knowledge more valuable than items and trinkets. I am only now beginning to understand what it means to be truly Just."
****** EPILOGUE ******
Megilhir leaned back against the warmth of the tavern fire as murmurs of agreement and anger spread through the gathered crowd. "What sort of drivel are you on about here story-teller?" demanded an scowling man dressed in the garb of Britannia's Tamer guild. "Orcs are hideous and evil, we do the realm a service by hunting them." From the side of the audience a lady mage spoke in opposition, "Be seated beast-user, the story relays that evil is as evil acts. Not like many would advocate, an art of only orcs." A nearby warrior leapt to his feet, knocking over a table as he charged into the verbal fray, "That's not the point of his story. He's saying that humans have ruined the land, not orcs." "No, no, no," cried a man, holding an expensive lute, "He is saying that all adventurers are evil."
"Silence each of you," bellowed the innkeeper. "Let us ask the storyteller what the moral of this tale is and be done with it." Turning toward the small stage, the innkeeper began to ask for the tales' moral when he noticed that Megilhir was gone. In his place was a carrot-colored book. Lifting the book, the innkeeper read its' title, 'PALAR THE JUST AND THE ORC NAMED RAZRAOUG'. Placing it in his apron pocket for later reading, he turned back toward the increasingly foul natured mob of human-kind.