I recently finished the second draft of a story I’m working on, and I decided to share it online. I’m sharing one chapter at a time, and the story is about 487,000 words right now (roughly 5 paperback novels in length, give or take), so this will take awhile.
I estimate that 2nd draft is about 80% of the way there, story-wise; but 80% is not 100%. This chapter might show up in the final story completely unchanged. It might show up with minor changes, or heavy revisions; or might be cut from the final draft completely. If it does remain, it might be in a new place in the story or the same place.
* * * * *
Iliar became aware of someone saying something. He turned bemused eyes on the source of the voice, and realized it was the young man he had saved.
“Thank you, thank you!” the man was stammering. His blue eyes were wet with tears, and his voice was weak. “You saved me. Thank you so much. You saved me, saved Martha…I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Iliar watched him as from a great distance, and then slowly he came back to himself. Slowly, the horror at what he had done faded as he remembered the orc’s words: “I will take it out of your woman’s hide.”
He had saved this man, he realized slowly. Numbly. Had saved his family.
He searched for something to say. Anything, to distract him from the hulking corpse and the stench of shit stuffing itself up its nostrils.
“What did the orc want with you?” he asked at last. “What did…Gan’ash…want with you?”
The human shuddered. His tan face was still pale.
“I got into some gambling debts with him. I know, never gamble in an orc-pit my mother said, but we were rich and I had my father’s earnings and I thought it was safe.
“He took everything I owned, and I couldn’t believe it so I kept going. Made another bet with money I didn’t have, trying to get back my inheritance. I knew my father would kill me if I lost that. And when I lost that bet….”
“Gan’ash took it out on my body.”
He raised one hand, and Iliar could see old bandages wrapped around his hand. His thumb was missing. Iliar thought he was going to be sick again.
“We worked out a deal, and I paid him a gold mark every week for awhile now. But…work’s hard, and with a newborn and my wife still bedridden I couldn’t keep making them. My father wouldn’t help; he said I had squandered what he gave me and I deserved what I got. This was the third week in a row I missed my payment.”
Iliar felt sick. He kept staring at the bandages covering that missing thumb. Kept thinking about the orc’s words: “I will take it out of your woman’s hide.”
Kept imagining if it was Sarah, if it was Sarah in place of the nameless woman who the orc was going to go after. Imagined her screaming, crying as the orc pulled a knife on her and….
Rage flared inside him. Rage red-hot and fiery, rage that swept through him and scoured him clean of any guilt around the massive monster lying in the clearing. His hands curled into fists so hard they hurt.
“Where is the orc-pit?” he asked. His voice was hard and cold. Everyone knew about the orc-pits: dens of thieves where dumb men went to gamble. You never won in an orc-pit, only lost; and when you lost, the brutal bastards took it out of your skin if you couldn’t pay. He hadn’t known what that meant, when he was ten and sailors had first told him about it. Looking at the man’s thumb, at the scars on his once-handsome face, he did now.
He didn’t care if wise men avoided the orc-pits, didn’t care if the sailors he had spoken to in those taverns as a child had spat when they described the bastards foolish enough to think they could walk in and walk out with purse and skin intact. Didn’t care if orc-pits were the most dangerous place short of the Hellscape, and if the man had the brains of a goat for entering one in the first place.
He didn’t care about any of that. Gan’ash had been a monster. The other orcs in the pit must be too. When Rorin saw a monster, even a dangerous one, he put it down. Iliar didn’t have much of his father left, but at the very least he had that. At the very least, he could do what he knew Rorin would do in this situation.
He would kill them all.
And save every poor bastard in the world from falling into their trap. Save every one of their women from paying the price for their stupidity. He gave a low growl.
“I don’t know,” the man stammered. He caught the rage on Iliar’s face and his face blanched. “I wish I did, but…when you get close enough, they blindfold you so you can’t find it again. By the time they take off the blindfold, you’re in the pit, surrounded by hulking orcs making wagers, by fine women, by….” he gulped and cut off.
“By what?” Iliar asked.
“They…they act so friendly when you first come,” the man said. His voice trembled, and he seemed to draw back in on himself. His thin frame seemed to shrink down as he spoke. “They tell you how happy they are to see you, that the rumors are all just of bad spots on the apple…a few spiteful men who lost money and told the world lies about them as a result. And they’re so charming, you want to believe them. They…they offer you nights with women, too; if you can win. Beautiful girls, the most beautiful you’ve ever seen; batting their eyes seductively at you and telling you how much they want to peel off the little they’re wearing and ride a man who can beat the orcs at a toss of the dice.”
“You’re married,” Iliar growled. Papa had taught him that. Once you were with a woman, you never strayed.
The man blanched again. “Look, I made mistakes, agreed? If you’d ever been in there, you’d know.”
“Where is it?” Iliar demanded again. His voice was rough. He wasn’t angry at the man, but he couldn’t soften it. “If you don’t know the precise location, fine. Give me a direction. I’m going to go see those bastards.”
The man nodded. Sweat popped out on his ruined face. His weak chin bobbed as he pointed.
“I don’t remember much, but I was wandering that way when I was taken.
“Understand,” he said. “They only take you if you’re looking for them. That’s how they operate: once you’re in their territory, if you want to find them they’ll find you first.”
“Don’t let them find you first.”
And before Iliar could ask him what he meant, the man’s remaining courage had failed him. He spun and sprinted through the trees.
Iliar let him go. He was probably going back to his wife and child.
Underneath the anger, the raw rage pulsing inside him at the thought of those orc-pits, he felt a sense of pride. The man had been an idiot, but Iliar had saved his life and the life of his family today.
He stood up straighter, and his shoulders pushed back. That was something, at least.
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