I’ve got two shorter projects running in parallel with my main novel project. This one is the opening of a sequel to Oruk Means Hard Work:
Elara, queen presumptive of the Elven kingdom of Greenwood clapped her hands over her ears.
“Can you not hear that?”
“Your…highness?” The regent Oridan stared at her in confusion.
“Oh.” Elara turned and stalked down the hallway in the direction of the pained shrieks that only she could hear. The regent and others of her putative court, her keepers she thought a more honest term, followed in her wake.
The sound led her out of the keep, across the bailey to a small forge. She burst through the door and stabbed a finger in the direction of the smith.
“What do you think you are doing?”
The smith paused, hammer upraised. He looked down at the glowing metal in his tongs.
Elara stepped forward, shoving her face in the smith’s.
“You are torturing that steel.”
The smith stepped back, trying to put some distance between him and Elara but Elara followed, her face a mere hand away from his. The smith dropped the steel on the anvil, but kept the tongs in his hand.
“Highness? It’s steel. This is how you make…”
“Make what?” Elara jabbed a finger into the smith’s chest. “A blade of some sort?”
“A poignard, yes.”
“Highness?” Oridan spoke from the doorway to the smithy.
“A poignard,” Elara said to the smith, ignoring Oridan. “Did you ever think that the steel doesn’t want to be a poignard?”
Confusion twisted the smith’s face. “The steel…want?”
“Highness?” Oridan said again.
Elara drew in a deep breath, continuing to ignore Oridan. “Yes. The steel wants.”
“Give me that.” Elara grasped the tongs, near the smith’s hand. She tugged, but the smith retained his grip.
The smith looked over Elara’s shoulder. “Regent?”
“Highness,” Oridan said. “This is not appropriate…”
“I am supposed to be the queen, am I not?”
“When you come of age,” Oridan said, “in seventeen years.”
“So I am a prisoner until then?”
“No, you are the queen presumptive. My job is to guide…”
Elara glanced at the steel on the anvil. She forced her voice to calmness.
“Oridan, Regent, I have sat in the councils as you have asked. I have spoken the words you gave me to say. Give me this. Just this.”
“Highness, this is not appropriate for a queen.”
“I need work to do,” Elara said. “Honest work of my hands. All you give me are pretty words that mean nothing, spoken to people who speak equally meaningless words back.”
“Talk and talk and talk and talk and no end of talk. And in the end nothing changes. Give me this. Please. Lest I go mad.”
Oridan hesitated, then looked over his shoulder at the older elf behind him. “Witharin? You were there when she was recovered.”
Witharin, the court magician regarded Elara for a moment. Elara strove to appear as earnest as possible. Sometimes she thought Witharin could see more in her than she wished. She bit her tongue to avoid saying anything that might induce him to deny her plea.
After a moment, Witharin nodded. “I think it would be best to let her have her way in this. She will be more…tractable I think with a task of her own choosing to occupy her energies.”
“But…working a forge? Fire and hot steel? She will be burned, scarred.”
Witharin shrugged. “She is already scarred from her treatment at orc hands.”
“But fresh scars?” Oridan’s wave took in Elara’s full height. “Now of all times?”
Elara could remain silent no longer. “What do you mean ‘now of all times’?”
Oridan considered her for a moment. “You are the last survivor of the royal family. You need to secure the bloodline. It is time to choose a prince consort.”
Elara’s jaw fell open. Marry? An elf?
Her hatred for all elfen-kind welled up within her and fiercely she bit it back down. Still she needed to bide her time.
Oridan nodded. “While a love match is preferable, a match you must make, for the sake of all of us.”
Elara met Oridan’s eyes for a moment then, slowly, nodded. Inwardly, she shrugged. There would be no love match for her, not with an elf, not with anyone.
She scarcely remembered her childhood as an elf princess. Instead, she remembered the family that had raised her, that had taught her to work, that had loved her. And she remembered her true love match, the young man known as Buck Tooth, her husband. She remembered the people she had known and loved before the elves came and killed them all.
Just as she would kill the elves.
When the time was right.
Life among the orcs is hard. So difficult and ubiquitous is brutal labor among them that “Veth oruk”/”Work is” is their most common greeting. When Elara, princess of the elves is captured and enslaved by them that is the life she must learn to live, a life of hard, unremitting labor with no hope of rescue.