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 pushed through the forest in the direction the straw-haired man had pointed, crackling with purpose.
It didn’t matter if he died trying to destroy the orc-pit. For the first time in a long time, something mattered. Something besides the loss of Papa and Sarah and everyone else he had ever known.
There had been a hole inside him since he had come awake on that ship, he realized; since he had escaped. A gaping emptiness, raw and ragged with pain and sadness.
For the first time, he felt something else inside him. Not filling the hole, but…distracting him.
Giving him something to live for.
He strode through the forest as quietly as he could, wincing as he stepped on a patch of leaves that looked wet and something crackled under his foot. He tried to move more carefully, placing his bare feet on wet roots and big mossy stones, trying to avoid making a sound.
He ducked under a low-hanging branch. The words of the man pulsed in his mind: “Don’t let them find you first.”
He had magic, and he was stronger and broader than the only other human he’d seen in this forest. He wasn’t helpless. He snarled at the idea of being helpless. Never again. Never again would he be carried off by strangers who had killed his Papa, too weak to do more than thrash in their arms.
Still, there was no reason to let the orcs find him first.
He stalked through the trees, flinching with every sound of dry leaves underneath him, every time he stepped on a rock that looked solid and it rolled to the side under his weight and cracked into a smaller rock. But he tried to be quiet. Tried to be silent, like Rorin must have been when he had left one night to go after a cutthroat who had been haunting the streets nearby.
He would kill any orc he saw, he decided. He had magic. He would weaken it, spring on it, and slit its throat before it could see him.
He still didn’t know how his magic worked, didn’t know why it had drained the strength from that orc right as it flooded him with strength. But that didn’t matter. Each time he had needed it–three times, now, he thought–it had come.
He would trust it to come again.
He kept walking, stalking through the forest and trying not to make any noise. Trying to breathe lightly as sweat ran down his chest from the heat and the effort. Unease roiled his stomach. He knew it was ridiculous, what he was trying to do. He was a mage without any training, an escaped rower with no combat training except what Rorin had taught a ten-year-old. At ten, he had thought he was fit to fight a bear. Now, having fought an orc, having fought that sorcerer, he realized how little he really knew. And he was going to hunt a den of ten-foot–at least!–monsters with fists the size of his head.
It didn’t matter, he realized. He had spent a century in waking death, on that Gods-be-damned ship. Nothing could be worse than that. Not death or the Hellscape itself.
If he died trying to stop the orc-pit, so be it. He would go out like his Papa had, laying down his life for something he valued.
He stepped on a big rock, mossy and large enough to plant both feet on; and paused. There. What was that noise?
It sounded like singing. It was rough and coarse, and he couldn’t pick out the lyrics. And there was…he strained his ears. Splashing, it sounded like. Like something big being dunked into a lake.
His mouth went dry. Had he stumbled on an execution? Were the orcs singing a death-song as they lowered a gagged and bound man into the lake to drown because he–or maybe his wife–couldn’t pay their debts?
White-hot rage coursed through him, and he clutched Gan’ash’s dagger in his fist. The hilt dug into his skin so hard it hurt.
He stepped closer, pulled aside a low branch laden with broad wet green leaves, and almost dropped the knife in shock.
It was an orc alright…but it was…playing? It was smaller than Gan’ash, only six feet tall; and something about it seemed almost childish. Its broad, flat face lit up as it jumped up and landed in a stream with a splash. Then it did it again, pirouetted on one foot and almost crashed into the water. The whole time, it was singing.
Come with me, leap with me
Into the forest wide.
Leap with me, play with me
Into the waters deep.
For chores will e’er be
Awaiting home for me
But until my Mama calls,
Let’s dance beneath the sun.
Iliar froze. What in the name of the Gods? Was this a child?
Its face lit up as it finished the song and started again. It couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but that didn’t seem to stop it; the flat, green face was smiling and its black eyes were crinkled as it laughed.
Iliar stared. Was this a trick? The straw-haired man had said that the orcs seemed fair at first, until they turned foul. Was this first impression designed to knock Iliar off his guard, to make him forget that the orcs were monsters; long enough for them to ambush him? Were orcs even now waiting in the trees around the child, concealed by the dense foliage, ready to pounce when he revealed himself?
But as Iliar watched, a massive orc with a matronly air came bustling out from between two nearby trees. She wasn’t carrying a weapon, and wrapped around the front of her massive chest was an apron of worn leather.
She caught sight of the youngster and walked quickly towards him.
“Man’ark!” she cried. “There you are! Come inside now, I need your help tanning this leather. Matriarch needs two new funeral shrouds; and I’m not doing all that work on my lonesome.”
The smaller orc–Man’ark?–groaned but climbed out of the stream towards the female.
Then her eyes shifted, and fixed on Iliar.
“You there! Human, trying to hide between two trees. Didn’t anyone ever teach you to hide? Honestly I’m surprised even Man’ark didn’t see you, and he has eyes only for the water and the fish. He’ll be a great fisherorc one day, if he can avoid getting eaten by a wolf because he’s too careless to look around himself.”
Iliar reached for his magic, but…something inside stopped him. This was a family. A mother and her child, and she scolded him with the same annoyed affection his own mother had shown him.
Could he really kill her? Kill her and a child?
This didn’t feel like an orc-pit.
Holding the dagger loosely at his side–he hadn’t thought to take the dead orc’s sheath–he pushed into the clearing by the river with a rustle of branches and wet leaves.
The orc female eyes him up and down critically. Her black eyes were assessing.
“What were you doing there, clutching that knife? And–Gods, is that blood?”
She moved forward suddenly, putting herself between him and her child. She didn’t have a weapon, but she curled her hands into fists and stared down at him.
Iliar gulped as he stared her up and down, realizing she probably wouldn’t need a weapon. If there was an inch of height between her and Gan’ash, he couldn’t see it.
“I know the blood stains a butcher makes when he’s killing pigs, and that’s not what you’ve got. You can’t tell me you’ve been doing honest work, not hiding in the trees like that with your knife out and soaked in blood.
“You killed someone recently, and you’re either hunting someone else or you’re hiding from someone. Out with it. Who did you kill, and why didn’t you come into the clearing like a decent male? I don’t have much truck with hiders and schemers.”
Iliar swallowed. He didn’t know what he intended to say. But looking into this female’s fierce eyes, the truth spilled out.
“Gan’ash,” he said. “I didn’t…I mean, I saw him threatening a human. Saw him threaten to hurt the man, and his wife. And I killed him for it. I killed….”
He trailed off. Gan’ash’s corpse filled his mind, and he lost whatever he had been going to say. He had killed….
“Oh,” said the female. Her hands didn’t loosen out of fists, but her face softened. “Well why didn’t you say so? I’ve always said someone needed to kill him, but of course honor forbid we go after him. Not unless he attacked us, and even he isn’t fool enough to pick a fight with a whole village.”
She looked up at the sky through the trees. The sun was about its own length past the midpoint of the sky.
“Looks like you killed him about high noon. Good for you. I always say, an orc in an orc-pit is a damn shame. Gives the rest of us a bad name, it does.”
Iliar stared at her, bewildered. What was going on? She didn’t seem about to attack him, and she seemed genuinely pleased that he had killed Gan’ash.
The straw-haired man’s warning rang in his mind: the orcs would seem fair at first, and then shift to foul once he started losing money. But this didn’t feel like that.
If this was a trap, it was a very strange one.
“Well come with me,” she ordered. She turned around, and started walking briskly away from the river. “You’ll want to tell your story to the Matriarch. I’ve always said as Gan’ash needed killing, and I suspect she agrees with me. You won’t be in trouble, but all the same you need to tell her.”
She shook her head disgustedly. Her shoulder-length coarse brown hair waved around her blunt face.
“Orc-pits! I never thought I’d see the day when we had a pit here in this forest, just spitting distance from our village. But then it sprang up, and honor forbid that we do anything about it unless they start the fight. Can’t spill orc blood unless there’s no other option, even blood as probably needs to be spilled.
“Well come on! What are you waiting for?”
She directed that last at both him and her child. The smaller orc–still as tall as Iliar, and muscled like him; but a little gangly somehow–dropped the water he’d been holding in his cupped hands and hurried after her.
Iliar followed the massive female more slowly, his mind spinning. What in the name of the Gods was happening?
Want to get updates on the story, including future chapters sent right to your email and an announcement of when the final story will be published? Feel free to sign up for email updates.