Friday, May 6, 2016

Song of Grod; Chapter Seven

RONALD

The room was kept dark, in order to keep him quiet.

Shutters were closed upon bars of iron across the windows,  Their opaque glass painted to a dark grey.  Two sets of thick black drapes hung on each of the windowsills.  There was a smooth, thin frost of grey dust upon them.  They hadn’t been disturbed in years  Each day the light attempted to shimmer it’s way in.  Then it would try sneaking.  Then smoothly, stealthily infiltrating.  Finally in a rage it would try for an all out frontal assault.  Each day the light would limp off licking it’s wounds having failed once again to gain entry into the old man’s room.

People wanted  him to stay calm.  That is all they want of me now, he thought to himself.  They used to ask the Wide Earth of me but now they just want me to stay calm, he could still remember that much...kind of...sort of...just a bit.  His life came to him in flashes now.  Kneeling on a battlefield while a priest placed something...round upon his head. Armed and armored men cheering wildly when the priest did so. That one must be important because my mind keeps orbiting back to it.  Other images came and went.  He saw himself making himself laugh louder and longer then anyone else in the big hall, over a meager and scant meal, pretending it was the best and finest of repasts when the kingdom was in famine. He wasn’t so sure about that recollection.  There was more then one memory like that.  Holding his wife while she cried and cried because she had now delivered their sixth living daughter and for the kingdom’s sake she would have to try again.  

Why did the kingdom matter so damn much?  

Why had he given up so much for it?  He was only a Career (Pioneer) Captain.  Wasn't he?  Why did the kingdom want so much from him?  He was a nobody.

And why the screaming buggering blue monkey fuck did that hatchet faced old bitch keep sobbing in the corner?  He didn’t know her from the White Christ.  It wouldn’t matter if he asked who she was, she would tell him something profoundly stupid bullshit.  He could remember that as well.  

She also kept telling him what she had just done was for the good of the kingdom too.  Well good for her!  But why does she keep crying in my damn bedroom over it?  It’s bothering me.  They're supposed to be keeping me quiet and she's about to give a me damn stroke!

If strange women were going to be sitting in corners crying over him, he preferred the MILF brunette with the arching eyebrows and nice big tits.  She cried a lot too and gave him a different line of bullshit about being his wife.  She was lying but he could live with that because of the aforementioned magnificent tits.

Ronald thought to himself.  It was tempting to let the strange MILF play at being his wife.  That would be some serious fun.  He felt his heart skip a beat.  And then two beats.  Well maybe not.  There was an upward limit to fun these days, apparently.  It sucked but it wasn’t like she was his real wife anyway.  That was another very distinct memory, Jayne laying in bed one night and telling him that she forgave him for all of the camp follower girls she knew he had lain with when he was deployed.  Except that he bloody well hadn’t!  A stream of missed opportunities seemed to flood into in his mind at that prompt.  And then a stream of fulfilled opportunities after he was green lit.  The brunette MILF really came to mind there.  Okay pretty sure I have seen her naked...a lot.  Was there something to that wife thing?

No of course not.  More bullshit.  His wife was his sweet Jayne.

Where the hell was Jayne?  He missed her.

A lot.

Quite a lot really.  More then he should.  He had just seen her...

...this morning?  

No.  Not this morning.  That had been the old hag again. Still damned sitting in his room for no good reason!

“Who the fuck are you?” He roared at the hag.

“It’s Perseverance, Father,”  she said dully.  As if she was used to his rages. He didn’t like the idea of his rages having so little effect on anyone.   Most cowered in abject terror before them.  Why didn’t she?

Wait...was she repeating herself?  Hadn’t she just said that? He thought she had. Hadn’t she?  It didn’t matter matter.  

She was lying.  Persey was his beautiful little...well his cute little imp, not this worn out old witch.

The old man collapsed back on to his pillows short of breath from yelling.  His heart was starting pound a little too hard in his chest and his breath became quite a bit more short.  He didn’t remember it being like this..ever.  He was quite sure of that.  His great heart had always had a steady predictable rhythm.  Not like now.  The way it was pounding away at odd intervals now...it left him as frightened as...he could barely remember a time that anything did frighten him this much.  Not since he was little boy sitting in his bed in the dark.

“I’m sorry father,” he heard the strange crone say one final time.


GROD

Skull Barer Arena was not misspelled.

It’s name was an accurate description of a function that frequently took place within it.  The Arena had been a gift by the Fallen One to his Orcs.

It was tall and threatening.  The stone it was hacked from was the rare dull red marble of Ghaziadara, imported at great expense, (okay, okay not particularly  great expense, the Fallen One was a wizard after all).  Statues of Orc and Dark Elf  heroes lined the plinths on every one of its seven stories, encircling each level.  The stone work was blunt, jagged and strong.   Eleven massive fire pits crowned the top ring of the structure.  Fires once stoked with cheap coal would belch columns of thick black smoke high into the air, blotting out the sun and turning the sky above into a hellish orange-red.  

Or at least they used to.  The Ministry of Environment had shut that part down in abject horror years ago.  Now the eleven fire pits supported gigantic statues of hyper-obese women.  These utterly crude blobs of stone all featured `a big pear shaped lump with two smaller round lumps sprouting from the top of the pear.  They  had been erected by the Royal Endowment of the Arts and...the Orcs had been informed...were all representations of the Earth Mother whom all man-(and indeed orc)-kind had worshiped before the corrupting influence of the White Christ had entered the world.  

The Orcs were pretty damn sure they had never worshiped anything like that but they were now stuck with the damn things.

At least temporarily.  

Due to their weight the statues were creating cracks and faults throughout the continuous wall of the structure.  Skull Barer Arena would sooner or later collapse under the weight of the Earth Goddesses.   The Orcs weren’t certain whether this was deliberate planning on the part the establishment or not.  It seemed a little too clever for them and yet there was no doubt at all that the Columbian’s hated  Arena so much they would even risk experimenting with intelligent thought in an effort to destroy both it and what it stood for.

No, not the massive gladiatorial games that were once held there in the Fallen One’s day.  The Fallen One's Games were legendary events of days long carnage.  Beginning with the Amusing Executions in the mornings, then progressing to Ritual Duels followed by the Clan Duels in the afternoons. Finally climaxing in the Tribal War Games that would leave hundreds dead.  The Columbianans would have happily encouraged the orcs to keep doing all of that and congratulated themselves for being quite culturally sensitive as well as delightfully inclusive for having done so.  

But no, these days the Orcs used the Arena for Glodge Ball and Stock Coach racing.  The Columbianan aristocracy loathed and detested both.  The Orcs were a little confused by that because there was little doubt that way more people were killed in those events then had ever died in the century of long slaughter of the Fallen One’s Games.

Glodge Ball was particularly Inclusive from that standpoint, as there weren’t many other games on Wide Earth where you could legally kill and devour an opposing team member.  Yet the elites clearly hated the orc’s national passtime.  They tried to encourage the orcs to play Mortianan Rules Glodge Ball which didn’t allow for physical contact...that was officially true (although the Mortianans would have been shocked as hell to hear it). But it was certainly true of the way Columbians played it.  The elites viewed it as bad form if you actually tried to win a game and meticulously refused to keep score.  Score keeping being viewed as a horrendous micro-aggression.

So far, the technical precision required by Mortianan Rules Glodge Ball had somehow failed to stir the passion of orc tribes quite like their own blood soaked version of the game.

But today however the Arena was playing host to a new horror that was beyond anything the walls of the colosseum had ever seen.  The battle scarred legionnaires of the orc cohorts now gathered within it, were doomed and they had entered the Arena knowing they were doomed.


The time of Sensitivity Training had begun.


Kevo-Grod’s boredom was beyond desperate at this point.  He was starting to wonder if this was some new kind of illegal medical experimentation they were trying out on the orcs again.  Okay, not so much wondering as hoping.  At least there would have been the slightest fucking point to this nightmare.

The required sensitivity training on Human Privilege was now into it’s seventh hour but it felt like it’s seventh year.

The trainer was human but was dressed as a Swamp Elf and had introduced himself as Carl Glasscok.  After the orcs were done laughing he began to take his prolonged revenge.  "Again this brings us to the secondary concepts of Human Privilege meaning, those privileges of..." Glasscock began to sadistically tick off points on his chart and then stopped.  “...Follow along please!” He ordered crisply.

There was a massive shuffling of papers from the well of the Arena as the orcs and Dark Elves dredged in hopeless resignation through their study packets.

“Humaness Unspoken”

Pretty damn unspoken in my case. Grod thought. Being a human has never benefited me in slightest bit.  What with my not fucking being one!

“Unjust Enrichment”

Yes, I’m just rolling in the loot as a Banner Sergeant.  And how, may this simple baccalaureate owner ask, do you define just enrichment?  Enrichment comes in only three amounts; not enough, too much and fuck you.  There has never been an amount called, just right.

“Spared Privileges (meaning spared injustices)”

Oh thank the Fallen One!  Grod finally wins at something in life!  I’ve never been spared a single injustice that I can think of.  You can add  being forced to attend this mass brainwashing session to the list.  

Spared Privilege equals proving a negative, Grod snarled to himself.  And only Swamp Elf Studies majors with a 2.1 GPA have ever been able to manage that.

“And finally those Privileges not related to Injustice”

Which would be the rest of my entire glutching life!

“How much longer?” Grod heard the plaintive cry of another orc behind him.  

It was going badly all around him. This was worse then the assault on Iron Hammer Mountain.  Career Hundred-Captain G’Jenn-Marow had lashed himself to his chair, determined to keep his head held high, throughout this ordeal. But poor young Corporal Kreen-Taro was down, his head lolling bonelessly from side to side helplessly.  The boy had had such promise Grod thought sadly.

Hoarde-Brigader Rauoo had had more foresight then the others.  An hour into this nightmare, an aide de campe  had hustled into the coliseum apparently bearing News of Vital Importance. Rauoo had risen with an appropriately grave look on his face,  obviously on some Mission of Critical Urgency and quickly charged out of this Social Justice Theater of Torment.  

You’re not fooling anyone, sir but RHIP, Grod thought grimly to himself.

Kevo-Grod was just barely holding on himself but others weren’t doing nearly as well.  The moans of lost despair all around him were heartbreaking.

If there was some point to to this, it wouldn’t be so bad.  Grod thought and then corrected himself.  Okay it would be this bad but the pointlessness does bother me.  The Columbianans really do not know why they are doing this.  There is potentially some Machiavellian advantage to forcing people to repeat a lie and then publicly defend that lie.  Really put some work into propping up the lie and you will value the lie because it cost you something to enforce it.  

That would make a little sense.

But the current team of bitch-monkeys running the Ministry of Defense aren’t capable of that kind of in depth thinking.  Everything is about feelz with them.  

G’Jenn muttered between waves of boredom, “And this glutching asshole is on a 400K annual contract from the MOD to spread this bullshit.”

Ah, Grod thought to himself in mild satisfaction.  I guess there is a point to this after all.  

He then added to himself, I am in the wrong business.

“Next, we will examine in detail” the speaker foreshadowed with cruel menace,  “these concepts. Beginning with the privilege of Humaness Unspoken.”  The speaker smirked as he ran a hand delicately across his sleek and intricately constructed man-bun.

A groan broke from Grod’s lips and was joined by a chorus of fifty thousand voices, sweeping around the Arena as the shitstorm of human White Guilt continued to rain down on the innocent (more or less) orcs of the legions.  Who had never been human or particularly white.

“The concept of Humaness unspoken was first introduced by...um...professor Cowden-Alberts at the...um...university of...” Kevo-Grod looked up in interest.  The trainer was faltering rather badly.  And then Grod saw that the stocky, gravel faced form of Horde-Brigadier Rauoo had mounted the stage and was stalking toward the trainer purposefully.   

The Carl Glascock gathered himself enough to scowl petulantly.  “Is there something, I can help you with General?”  He sneered because he had no idea how not to.

“No, Rauoo bitchslapped him dismissively as he stepped up to the Vocoenhancer. "Now, shut the fuck up."  

Ten legions of orcs leapt instantly to their feet.  All caste distinctions between Dark Elf and orc ranks for once were completely forgotten in their joy.  Fifty thousand fists pumped into the air and fifty thousand voices joined as one in a roar of triumph.  The cry of, “RAUOO! RAUOO! RAUOO!” Thundered into the night sky.

Carl Glasscok fell to the stage floor wide eyed in terror, blood oozing from his split lip and his man-bun in complete disarray.  He scuttled in horror from the stage.

“Quiet assholes!”  Rauoo roared back at the legions...not without affection.

Then Rauoo in full view of the Arena drew his tomahawk and then reversed the grip so that he was holding it by the ax-head.  He raised the handle of his weapon ritually over his head.

“Uh-oh,” Grod muttered worriedly.

The ten banners of the legions now gathered dipped as one at his signal  and black ribbons were attached to them before they rose again.

Corporal Kreen-Taro, shook his head still recovering from the ordeal he had barely survived. “Banner?” He asked Banner-Sergeant Kevo-Grod, “what’s going on?”

“Somebody just died.”


NARRATOR

A royal funeral is supposed to be an orderly affair.  The hymns selected.  The sermon memorized.  The Riderless Horse brushed and curried, the reversed boots in the stirrups shined to a mirror finish.   All musicians rehearsed and the all choir members on their marks.  All roles assigned.  All places filled.  A place for everyone and everyone in their place.   

Even more so if the monarch had been old or ailing for sometime and King Ronald had certainly been both.   These funerals have usually been thought out years in advance, often with the principal taking an active part in the planning.  Indeed Brian the Great’s funeral had been a particularly fascinating hobby for him.  He had run the court through hundreds of dress rehearsals, with himself lying in state, smiling happily throughout the hours long eulogies and processionals, that praised and honored his life and achievements. When the age retarding spells finally failed and Bryan passed at one hundred twenty one, the mortician felt compelled to make sure there was distinctly detectable smirk on his face.

King Bryan the Great had been the only one smiling of course, as was fitting.

While the affair is always somber, there is rarely a lot of actual tears at a royal funeral either.  In fact they are rather frowned upon. Sober, dignified grief is all that is asked of participants.  Dress in the court mourning colors of black and yellow.  Drape the Colors and Standards in black crepe. Don’t smile and don’t laugh.  Above all else maintain the dignity of the affair.  There isn’t a lot more to it than that.

There are exceptions of course.  The last royal funeral had been comparatively brief and had consisted in the main of King Ronald drunkenly pissing on the corpse of King James before kicking it into a ditch but as I said, exceptions.

His Grace Duke Bryan the (now) Former Regent and his mother the (now) Dowager Queen were working very much in lockstep for once.  And they were working hard.

Funerals are long since known to be the most productive diplomatic setting there is.  Mostly because no one expects you to accomplish anything at a funeral.  There is simply no pressure to get anything done. There are no interest groups to demanding goodies and no foreign secretaries demanding results.  Best of all you don't’ have to live up to the press release you made about all of the concessions you were going to get because you didn’t make one in the first place.  The only thing you promised to do was go to funeral and pay your respects.  Which is why state funeral are so back breaking for the diplomatic corps, for once something is going to be accomplished because there is no reason it can’t be.

Both Bryan and his mother had been occupied and both had thought the other had been watching Crown Prince Branadoc.

The early morning portion of King Ronald’s funeral had been going quite well.  The royal family and begun the day in the royal private chapel. The entire royal family of Columbiana was gathered in a place where they where by canon law, required to be disarmed.  So that worked out rather well.  The exception of course was young Crown Prince Branadoc who was not expected.  Custom dictated that he was to spend the entire night cloistered and holding vigil.  A more reliable priest might have been a help there.  The one provided was a client of Perseverance.  

After morning services were concluded.  The children of the late king assembled for the Royal Cortege.  They gave everyone else plenty of time to get into position.   Although they themselves would be only in the third cadre.  

The First Cadre would consist of the ruling monarchs.  Only two had shown up, young and vague King Lille of Valoision to the north, nephew of the late great Ronald.  And of course Ronald’s oldest “Friend and Ally” King Alejandro of Castillo to the south who in truth had only shown up, “to make sure the son of a bitch is really dead this time.  He's tricked me before!” The third crowned head was to be Branadoc himself.

The second Cadre were the crown princes of the Five Sea Lakes principalities Troth-Sworn to the Emerald Throne.  Also they were the only ones who could reasonably be expected to have gotten there in time.  Although Crown Prince Maurice of Homchapeau Island had barely made it, having arrived only five minutes before and even then his horse died of exhaustion.  These things happen. Maurice was remounted by a replacement mare calmly hustled out of royal stables in a flawless ballet of service while her predecessor was quietly rolled down hill towards Clever's Alley.

The Third Cadre as already mentioned were the royal children...The legitimate Royal Children.  Six of the royal princesses mounted side saddle on their palfreys. All of their eyes glued worriedly on their eldest sister, who was acting quite a bit more strangely than usual. Princess Perseverance was treating everyone to a bit of  preview.  Her riding habit more then passingly resembled a man’s coate harde to include chauses and braes.  Which would have been acceptable, except she was also mounted scandalously astride her horse.  But this was quickly dismissed as yet another (understandable and generally appreciated) attempt to avoid showing her legendary ankles in public...where people could see them and everything.  

Duke Bryan had forsaken his place in the Minor Royals Cadre a few ranks further back to keep his pride of place, wearing the blue and black as Colonel of The Guards.  If you were to ask, which guards? Everyone would look at you, a little embarrassed for your having asked that.  The Guards, was the only answer you would get or deserve.  The Tomb Guards was one of the few all human units left that did not get by on their reputation although they easily could.  They were still and quite definitely (and definitively) The Guards

The Dowager Queen was standing behind the horse drawn hearse.

Everyone was waiting for Branadoc.  Everyone kept glancing at the clock tower.

The acceptable five minute delay, gave way to a worrying ten minutes running behind which lead in turn to an unacceptable twenty minutes late.  Pages and runners had long since been dispatched.

The Regular Army was not permitted to be in attendance today.  They were whining about that of course but if given the chance and choice, they would have turned it down in a heart beat.  It was a hot morning.  Everyone was sweating heavily.  A couple of the Guards standing at attention had already collapsed and the horses had gone from restive to officially pissed off. Angry neighing was starting to echo through the street.  If this went on much longer the Columbianans gathered on the streets would go home...or worse start collecting rotten tomatoes. The now accursed minute hand on the clock tower advanced remorselessly.   

When it reached forty minutes after the hour, one of the pages finally appeared.  Sweat soaked and out breath he came pelting up to the Dowager Queen.  She bared her teeth at his news, frightening the boy badly.  She took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself and then gave him instructions.  The page nodded and ran up to King Alejandro and repeated what he had been told.

The news was rather surprising.  Prince Brandoc would rendezvous with them at the cathedral. Would he, King Alejandro lead the procession?  The old king smiled graciously.  This was a magnificently horrendous breach of protocol and was going to cost the Colombianans severely on the diplomatic front for years.  It was easily worth the trip.

Suppressing a completely inappropriate smirk of triumph, Alejandro raised his right hand.

A chorus of sergeants sang out, “Com-pany...Atten-shun! Hundreds of blinding, blazingly bright polished boots crashed their heels together, like a highly organized thunder clap.  

“Ri-i-i-i-i-ght face!”  Toes were pointed and heels were driven in meticulous exaction.  

“Clo-o-o-o-se, march!”  Hundred of feet sided stepped and side stepped again.  Alignment to the man on the right was maintained with unconscious accuracy.

King Alejandro dropped his hand

“Slo-o-o-w ti-i-i-i-me, march!”  And a war dance, hundreds of years old began.  Slow and somber at one step per second. His troops were marching with their king one final time.  But for once where he was leading they could not follow.  Not today anyway.  Although a couple of the boys were starting to look pretty peaked from the heat

Every boot struck the ground in a flat metronomic, synchronous rhythm.  The men were no longer entirely of themselves.  They were now part of a tradition so old that their steps were all but carved into the bricks of their parade route.  The muffled drum beats and calls of their sergeants were nearly a distraction for The Guards.  They all knew the route with the unconscious familiarity of ancient practice.

The parade made it’s way through the streets, at the pace of a highly disciplined slug.  Horse shoes clopping, boots striking and bright work tinkling, all with excruciating precision. Pride, dignity and honor all going hand in hand as they honored their lost king while making their way to the cathedral.  Where they would...

F-A-A-A-T-H-E-R!” A deafening, screaming bellow blasted through the air.  

The parade may as well have hit an invisible brick wall.  Every single foot missed it’s mark. The centuries long ritual was suddenly broken. The first domino in the row was tipped over.  Duke Bryan clenched his eyes shut and groaned in despair, “Christ, Bran, not now!”

“FATHER, WHY HAVE YOU LEFT ME!!!”  Prince Branadoc howled his grief to the skies.  "F-A-A-A-T-H-E-R!”  His cries were joined by the centaurs of the Royal Corps of Inclusive and Diverse Archers, whom he was leading around the bend.   Rending their hair, stamping their hooves and pounding their chests, wailing to the Great Blue Sky above for their leader’s heinous loss.   Keening at the tops of their lungs.

Centauri keening goes over quite badly with horses that aren’t expecting it.

Every horse in the parade screamed in reply,  suddenly in a near panic. Every rider was fighting to get a his mount under control.

The hearse team reared in terror of the completely unexpected.  The driver over-corrected  yanking on the reins trying to get them under control.  The hearse rolled backwards spilling all six of the pallbearer footman riding on the back and running over the Dowager Queen’s foot.

Torrents of tears, (most compelled with carefully daubed Burning Irons chest balm at the corner of the eyes but hey tears are tears) fell from centauri cheeks landing upon the cobbles.  It was all terribly cultural of course as Centaurs go in for professional mourning in a big way. Lord Trevis dropped to his knees in fervent grief and (rather delicately) beat his head upon the street.  

The centaurs by the way had opted for traditional dress, which in their case meant no dress at all.  Which made Lady Vulveena the Exceptionally Pneumatic’s public mourning amazingly traditional as she reared on her hind legs, throwing her arms and shoulders back, thrusting her chest skyward, undulating back and forth, crying aloud for her commander’s tragic loss.  And sending the last three Guard's ranks that were still marching in formation crashing into each other.  While her efforts at cultural inclusiveness were affectionately appreciated, Prince Branadoc’s opting for traditional dress was appreciated by no one.  There the next king of Columbiana stood in the street, hairy as he was, he was not quite hairy enough.

Vulveena made one more ululating cry of grief which sent the hearse team into a fresh panic, bolting forward and hard left.  Crushing one wheel against a corner of the cathedral.  King Ronald’s coffin flew overboard and broke open in the street with a sickening crunch.  The royal corpse rolled into the gutter and the funerary Crown of Grass that had been resting on top of the coffin, was shattered.

Perseverance’s horse, she later claimed, had been just as spooked as everyone else's and not at all trained for a week in a circus to be immune to the screams of centaurs.  That it was but through chance or perhaps fate that she got her horse under control just as she reached the royal first cadre.

Persey, turned at that point to King Alejandro. “What a surprising turn.  Perhaps it would be better if I stayed here?”  She asked with distant politeness.

King Lille was lost as usual but King Alejandro considered hard for a moment.

And then nodded, “perhaps it would be best at that.”

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