The half-orc rested, his thoughts roaming idly, eyelids closed but his ears still alert. His table sat near the back of the tavern. A half-forgotten mug of ale adorned the table. Arms crossed, Jake allowed the smells and sounds of the tavern to permeate him. Muscles mildly sore from hours of labor at the brewery loosened slowly.
"...it was on the body of some dead soldier." A voice filtered through the overall chatter of the room. Voices snickered.
"Was he dead before you found him?" Another voice, this one coarse and gutteral. His voice slurred slightly from heavy drinking. The half-orc only half listened. Dead soldiers were pretty common. Brigands looting dead soldiers common enough as well. Nor was it unusual for those same brigands to find their way to Badside.
"Zohannon take me, wasn't me that did him. Cold done it, if you ask me." More snickering.
While the orc contemplated more ale, the voices faded out of focus. They had begun discussing loot, the details of which held no interest to him, until, "...the dirk, had a fine blade it did. Bluish steel, with a razor's edge. Twitch payed a pretty crown for it. Had a signet mark on it. Red and gold. Never saw it before. Reminded me of a claw, or a raptor's talon."
The orc lurched up, the chair clattering down to set all four legs down. His eyes came wide and he sought out the voice.
"Bet it was some baronet's knife. ..." The voice faded out as the half-orc stamped his way to their table. Jake peered intently at the speaker.
"What's your problem, orc?" One of the others at the table spoke. Jake paid him no heed.
"What did you say the crest looked like?" The orc's voice was low and demanding.
"What's it matter to you, orc? Go back to ..." the speaker got no farther as Jake snapped out a kick, planting a heavy boot into the man's chest, knocking him and his chair to the floor. The orc's eyes did not leave the one who had spoken of the dirk. The man on the floor began coughing, trying to regain his breath from the blow.
"What did the crest look like?" he repeated. His fists curled in readiness, muscles tightened like coiled springs.
The man gazed at the orc for a moment, perhaps considering whether it was worth it to press the point. Jake readied himself, but saw the man's shoulders relax slightly.
"Can't hurt me none to tell." He leaned back slightly, seeking a little distance from the orc towering over the table. "Red circle, emblazoned with a gold talon, or maybe a wing, I dunno, looked a little like both. No gems or nothing, just that crest inset into the hilt and a steel blade."
The man hesitated, watching Jake warily. His compatriot was slowly getting up off the floor with the aid of another.
"Where's the blade now?" Jake demanded, lips pressed thin, leaving his tusks slightly bared.
"Sold it to Twitch." The man's eyes narrowed, perhaps fearful the orc was going to trying and claim his money. His hand moved slightly towards a knife hilt.
The coughing man was mostly up now, his face was twisted into a mask of both rage and pain. His companion was both holding him up, and holding him back, arm tightly grasped.
"That the only thing that carried the crest? Was there anything else?"
"No...no, that was it. The only thing with the crest. Why? What's it mean? Who's it belong to? Was it worth more?"
The orc grimaced, pulling his lips back a little more from the sharp tusks. Then with a sudden movement he stepped back from the table and turned. The coughing man started, almost falling backwards over his chair again. Jake ignored him. Looking out over the crowded tavern, Jake could see that both Scarface and his newest bouncer had been carefully watching.
Jake nodded to the proprietor and called out. "A round of ale, on me, for them." He gestured back to the table. Scarface nodded, and then again to the thug standing ready by the door. The bouncer eased his stance, but the cudgel remained casually in his hand.
Stepping out into the darkened tunnel, the orc paused, orienting himself, and then struck out down the shadowy tunnel.
The half-orc stormed into the makeshift shop. "Where is it?!" he bellowed.
"Ow!" the cry came from behind a table as a small, hunched man slammed his head against a shelf.
Jake marched directly for the sound, brushing aside a table of goods, helms mostly, sending them crashing to the floor.
"Crap, Jake..." the figure moved quickly to put a table between them. "Where's what? I don't have it. ... Whatever it is."
"Don't make me tear your worm-ridden pile of stolen and worthless junk apart, you misbegotten little gulka. The knife with the crest. Where is it?" Jake shoved aside another pile of unsorted goods, sending leather armor and thick furs spilling down.
"Don't have it! Never seen one. No idea what you are talking about!" Twitch protested, backing away from the orc. He ducked behind another table, this one of axe heads, miscellaneous belts, trappings and assorted junk.
"Wait! You mean the one with the red and gold crest!" A flash of recognition glimmered in his eyes. "Alright, alright, I've got it. Don't tear my place apart. I'll get it. I'll get it."
Jake paused, ready to tumble the table away, his gaze centered on the fidgeting man. "Make it quick. I'm gettin' impatient."
Twitch darted back behind a counter, reaching for a locked cabinet. The orc could hear him mutter sarcastically "When ISN'T he impatient, always hitting people...." The keys jingled for a moment as he pulled out a key ring and counted through them until he produced one that he slid into the cabinet's lock.
Twitch pulled free a collection of daggers, some of them wrapped in cloth or wool. The one Jake sought was immediately obvious. The red and gold crest of Siera gleamed upon a plain leather wrapped hilt. The orc's hand shot out for it, grabbing it up from the counter. "Hey!" Twitch protested.
Jake pulled the dirk free of its sheath. The slightly bluish steel blade was just as the rogue had described it. Jake tested a heavily calloused finger against the edge, the keen blade was just as expected. Whomever its previous owner had been, he had kept it well cared for.
"I'm taking this." The orc's tone was final.
"What a freaking minute! I paid good silver for that blade! A full three...FOUR crowns!" Twitch protested, undoubtedly sure he was about to be robbed by the orc. The thought of monetary loss even enough for the man to lose his fear of being hit.
The orc said nothing, reached into his belt and pulled free two crowns and threw them onto the counter. "You paid one." Jake turned, heading out as abruptly as he had entered. The small man lived up to his namesake, his frame twitched violently though he made no argument about the price.
Jake paused in the doorway, glaring back at the twitching man. "Anything else comes across your hands with this crest," the orc paused to make his point clear, "you bring it to me." Then the orc slipped the precious knife into his vest and stamped out into the darkness of the tunnels of Badside.
Back at the brewery, Jake nursed a mug of cold Bane's Brew. The crest of the dirk's hilt sent the orc's thoughts racing back to their first meeting.
Where else would such a meeting have been? In the rings of the Arena. The orc had agreed to a contest of blades with her. He had watched her for part of the evening, and judged her skillful.
She had opened with a lunging thrust, her famous blade ready to grant its first lesson upon an upstart first-timer in the rings. He had gauged her correctly. Direct, plain-spoken, sure to press the attack with the confidence of a warrior. His quick dodge to the side had prevented him from taking that first blow. His brawn and crude skill though had been woefully inadequate to protect him from the sound thrashing that followed her initial miss. A wry smile crossed the orc's features at the memory. His moment of advantage had been short-lived in that contest.
Like the honest soldier she was, she offered him an ale after schooling him on this thing called the Duel of Swords. Together they drank. It was not to be the last time they shared ale, nor was it the last time they tested each other in the ring. He had learned much from her over the years.
The orc stared at the hilt's sole decoration. The symbol of Siera of Redwin. Jake half-remembered seeing its like worn on harnesses of men that had called her commander.
His eyes wandered briefly about the brewery as he threw back a long slug of ale. The memories the dirk evoked were powerful. The question now was what to do with the blade? His eyes flickered over the brewery, and caught on a flash of silver.
The silver elven blade rested in its place against the wall. His...trophy...of that visit to a dark place. Jake's eyes fell upon the dagger again. Of course, this too had been a trophy. Someone had treasured this blade as a symbol.
The half-orc frowned. Orcs did not believe in elaborate burial. The dead were the dead. They had no need of weapons. Better trophies of that sort go to the living. To be used in glorious battle as they were intended. If the bearer of this blade were dead, then what should become of it?
The orc growled at the thought of it becoming a mere token owned by a rogue or brigand that knew not its meaning. Better that he take it back...
Yes, that is what he would do. Take it back. Take it back to one who knew the signifcance of the mark and could assign the dirk to its proper role once again.
Jake finished the ale in a single long guzzle and tossed aside the mug. He grabbed up harness and belt and shoved his own complement of blades into their proper place. The red and gold adorned blade was last. He made a special place for it beneath his vest, making sure it was doubly secure. Then, without further delay, the orc marched out of the brewery in search of the camp of Darian Redwin.
"Let me go, ya' freakin' gutless sons of goat-sucking gulka, before I rip..." the sound of a hafted weapon cracked against bone cutting off the rest of a litany of curses in mid-stream.
A series of loud cracking noises followed. "Ow! Kalin's Blood, he bit me!"
"Hold him! Don't let his arms get loose again!"
Outside the commander's tent, a muffled scream of pain followed the sound of what might have been a heavy boot thumping into a lightly armored body.
"Dammit! Don't let him kick out!"
"I'm gonna gut every last motherless one of ya' if ya' don't let me see him!"
A tent flap opened, and out stepped an armored figure. "What is this nonsense?"
The sight that met the man was that of four veterans struggling to restrain what appeared to be a half-crazed orc that fought like a raging beast to be free of their grip. Two other veterans lay on the ground nursing wounds, though a quick assessment showed none that looked mortal. A broken bone or two perhaps.
The soldiers attempted to wrestle the half-orc to the ground, with little success. Each time they got a firm hold, the orc, long experienced in close-quarters pit-fighting, found a way to lash out with a boot, or an elbow, or a knee.
The soldier peered hard at the orcish figure, a glimmer of recognition coming to him. He half-smiled. "Hold it! I know this ugly, drunken, ill-mannered, brutish thug." The soldiers hesitated at the order. "Damn it, I said release him!"
They reluctantly let loose of the orc, who glared hard at them, tusks bared. The wary soldiers did not step away far, still suspicious of the orc's intent, and ready to tackle him again given the command.
Darian Redwin folded his arms and looked upon the orc, his expression one of wry amusement. "Sorry about that. You should consider announcing yourself more appropriately... it would save my already tired troops from unnecessary bruising."
Wordlessly, the orc reached into his vest, pulling free the crested dirk. The soldiers tensed, ready to pounce. Jake presented the sheathed weapon, making visible the crest for all to see.
Darian's humor dissolved, his brow furrowing. He extended his hand, and the orc turned the dirk over to Redwin. The hands of some of his men instinctively drifted toward their own weapons, suspicion present on every face. His voice quieter by degrees as he grasped the blade, studying it, the Heir of Redwin spoke slowly. "I give you the benefit of the doubt here, Jake, because well do I know of your friendship with my predecessor... still, one question must needs be answered to my satisfaction, else blood may spill: how exactly did you come to possess this blade?"
The orc glanced about at the soldiers to assure himself they would not jump him again before he spoke. Jake looked to their commander, "I heard tale of it in Badside. A man spoke of finding it upon a dead soldier. When he described it to his cronies I recognized the mark it bore. He sold it to a trader I know. I took it off his hands as I could not tolerate it being passed about like some cheap trinket. Not all in Rhydin have forgotten the name of Siera Redwin."
After a moment Jake continued, "I wondered what to do with it." The orc turned slowly, his gaze sweeping across the encircling men. "Then I remembered you and thought it should be returned to one who could properly decide its fate. The customs of men are different from the customs of orc." The orc's steel-colored eyes returned to Darian, "and I would not dishonor one whom I called friend."
Darian listened intently, his eyes never leaving the half-orc's own. The troops surrounding the pair were not in the least shy about allowing their feelings regarding the death a comrade to show on their faces. Finally, Darian nodded. "Do you know what this is, Jake?"
The orc shrugged and shook his head. "It bears the mark of Siera. That was enough to consider it important."
"Whether Siera began it or not, I cannot say, but we have a tradition here. If you'll look at that device, and then this one," he said, gesturing to his own chest and indicating a very similar blade, "you will see that the hilts are somewhat different, but the devices are identical." The orc nodded, then glanced around. Many of the men also wore the blade; some were identical, and others had a different border; a very few had the same hilt as the blade the orc had recovered, as opposed to a hilt identical to the commander's. Darian anticipated his question. "Those who wear the device with the black border are those who have earned the Talon since Siera fell. I felt it important to differentiate."
Jake nodded and returned his attention to Darian. "And the hilts?"
Darian unfolded his arms, pacing a bit. "These dirks have been traditionally awarded on two criteria. The first -- the style you see me wear -- are direct rewards from the commander... that is, from Siera, or now from myself... based on deeds performed in the field. I received my own not but a few days prior to... no matter. This style, on the other hand," he continued after a pause, brandishing the blade for emphasis, "is a different reward. Periodically, we have a tourney within the lower ranks... not unlike those you are familiar with in the Arena, although not nearly so... polite." A sardonic expression drifted over his face, the full knowledge of how impolite the Arena's tournaments had been known to become on occasion clearly not lost on him.
"Anyway... this blade was a reward for victory in one of those tournaments. The winner of our last tourney was Anderos... and he has been missing for some days. It seems, friend orc, that you have brought us a mournful answer to his disappearance."
A menacing voice lifted from the ranks. "How do we know he didn't do it and then make up this story, sir?"
Darian glanced to the men, an eyebrow rising in contemplation. "Anything is possible," he murmured, looking back to the orc, "but in this case, highly improbable. Only an idiot would kill one of my men and then bring me the evidence, don't you think?"
Some of the soldiers seemed reluctant to put aside their misgivings, and Darian added with a note of irritation at their hesitance. "Did the orc ever draw weapon upon you?" The men glanced amongst each a moment, though none answered. "Doesn't it seem odd that an orc would attack without at least drawing a weapon?"
The men seemed to accept that explanation and assumed a more relaxed, if still wary, stance.
Darian then raised the blade over his head, looking out among the men. "We have lost one of our own. Tonight, we feast in his memory. I would have the bearer of these miserable tidings join us, so that we may honor him for honoring us by retrieving and returning the Talon. What say you?"
Only a momentary pause separated the question and the voice of assent from the ranks.
Back story copyright the players of: Siera Redwin, Darian Redwin, Jake Thrash 2004. All rights reserved.