Now through Thursday (Pacific Time because that’s what Amazon is using), the first story in the Elara of the Elves series, Oruk Means Hard Work, will be available free, free, free.
Elara, at eight years of age the heir apparent to the throne of the elves of Talen, had just finished reciting the names of the trees of the Greenwood when the alarm bell began to clamor. She jumped from the bench and began to look around.
Dorian put a hand on her shoulder, “Patience, Princess. Let us see what the trouble is first.”
The door to the garden burst open and Corinbar dashed in. “Dorian, they need you on the wall. Princess, come with me.”
“Trouble then?” Dorian picked up his sword and buckled it about his waist.
“Orc war party. They hit several farmsteads and are heading this way.”
Dorian nodded. “Taking the Princess to the keep?”
“That was her father’s charge to me.”
“Then I’ll accompany you as far as the wall,” Dorian said.
“I have told the King,” Corinbar snapped as he scooped Elara up to his hip, something only one of her bodyguards would dare, “that this garden needs to be inside the walls but he insisted on keeping it out in the forest…tradition.”
Once through the garden gate and out of the garden’s walls, Elara saw people streaming up the road toward the keep.
“This way!” Corinbar turned away from the road to dash through the woods.
“Where are we going?” Elara asked, her head pressed against Coninbar’s shoulder.
“The main gate’s too crowded and I need to get you inside now,” Corinbar said. “They’ll open a sally port for us.”
“I smell smoke,” Dorian said from behind them. “Elm, Ash, and Oak! They have fired the forest.”
“They are close then,” Corinbar said as he sped up, far faster than Elara’s young legs could have propelled her.
Elara buried her face in Corinbar’s neck. Why did the orcs have to attack now, while her father was away? Why did they…she suppressed a shout as Corinbar stumbled, then stumbled again. She looked up to see his face twisted in agony.
“Forgive me…Princess,” he said as he sank to his knees. “Dorian!” His arms went slack and Elara tumbled to the ground.
“Come, Princess,” Dorian grasped her arm roughly in his left hand and hauled her to her feet. In his right, he held his drawn sword, which blazed with the elf-light.
Elara stared at Corinbar as he fell forward onto his face. Two ugly black arrows protruded from his back.
Before Elara could begin to run with Dorian, a dozen orcs appeared from the trees. Two, armed with bows, let fly at Dorian. Dorian’s sword flicked out and both arrows fell broken to the Earth. In that moment, the other orcs were upon them. They piled on Dorian while one of their number fell on Elara. For a time she could see only hair and muscle, and then the orc climbed off of her and pulled her roughly to her feet.
The fight was over. Dorian lay bleeding on the ground, as did several of the orcs. The remaining orcs bound her; tight ropes cut into her wrists, then a bag covered her head and she was roughly lifted across an orc shoulder.
“Why?” She cried softly to herself. “Why are they doing this?”
And endless time of running later, the orc dumped Elara on the ground. Someone pulled the bag off her head. She struggled to a sitting position.
She saw that they were in a narrow ravine. Her woods-trained eyes spotted orcs at the top of the ravine, peering outward. Guards, she supposed. Another orc dug a small pit while others gathered wood, inspecting each piece before selecting or rejecting it.
Still other orcs stretched ropes between trees and pulled. They removed cloths from their packs and staked them over the ropes, forming low, wide tents.
While one of the orcs started a smokeless fire in the pit, the others spread forest litter over the low tents. Elara drew a surprised breath. From the ridges above, those tents would be invisible against the forest floor.
One of the orcs squatting at the fire stood and turned toward her. As he waddled in her direction, Elara could not take her gaze from the knife and bowl in his hands.
The orc squatted next to her as Elara sat, eyes transfixed on the knife. The orc raised the knife point first between them, then twisted it, giving Elara a clear view of the gleaming brightness of its tip from all sides.
The orc turned the knifepoint downward and stabbed into the bowl, coming up a moment later with a chunk of meat. He held the meat out to Elara. “Kurok.”
Although she was very hungry, Elara turned her face away.
“Kurok!” the orc repeated.
Elara shook her head ‘no’.
The orc set the bowl on the ground, then his hand darted toward Elara’s face and grasped her by the nose, pinching off her breath. Elara struggled for a moment, but the orc would not relinquish its hold. It drew her in closer and shoved the meat toward her mouth.
Elara kept her mouth closed as long as she could but with her nose pinched closed, she soon had to open it to breathe. The moment she did, the orc shoved the meat into her mouth and released the hold on her nose.
She spat the meat out at him.
Pain exploded against her right cheek as the orc slapped her. He dipped another piece of meat out of the bowl and held it out to her. “Kurok. Kurok olf.”
She ate. The meat was dry and tasteless, but filling. When she had eaten all the meat in the bowl, the orc poured water from a skin into the bowl and held it out to her. She drank.
Once Elara had finished with the crude meal, the orc rapidly undid the knots binding her legs and pulled her to her feet. The rope that had bound her legs was converted to a tether. A slip loop in the end went around her neck and the rope ran down her back and under her tied wrists, before leading back to the orc. The one time she tried to struggle, the orc gave a quick jerk on the rope caused it to close painfully around her throat, then release. She did not repeat the attempt.
The orc half circled Elara. The rope he held ran from his hand, around her waist and to her back. A slight tug showed that even from this direction, the rope could cut off her air if she resisted. The orc started to walk and Elara, having no choice, followed him out of the camp, down the valley of the ravine. Once out of sight of the camp, the orc stopped. Elara looked up at him but he just waited.
With a start Elara realized what he was waiting for. She couldn’t, not in front of an orc. But if she didn’t, she would soon foul her clothes.
After a short inward struggle, she did what was necessary. It seemed to take a long time.
That night they put her in one of the tents, still tied, where she drifted between fitful sleep and groggy waking. In the morning they fed her again, more meat and some kind of spongy bread, took her out to relieve herself and left her under the guard of one of the shorter orcs while they struck the camp.
Finally, they packed the tents and ropes away and extinguished the last coals of the fire.
“Azg!” the orc guarding Elara said.
“Azg, yourself,” she said, looking up at the orc.
The orc grasped her shoulder and pushed. “Azg.” He pulled at rope that poked from his pack. “Azg shek tak gorug shet.”
“I don’t understand you! I don’t speak orc!”
The orc stared at her for a moment, then walked a few steps. “Azg.” He pointed at her. “Azg.”
Tears welled up in Elara’s eyes. “I don’t want to ‘azg.’ I want to go home. Can’t you let me go home?”
The orc waited while she cried, terrible in his patience, then pointed at her once more. “Azg.”
Sniffling, the last of her hope dying within her, Elara walked.
For three days they walked, each night’s stop being a repeat of the first one. On the fourth day, before the sun had reached its zenith, they reached a narrow sinkhole. At the rim of the sinkhole, iron spikes protruded from the rock. To these the orcs tied ropes, the free ends of which they dropped into the dark.
Elara barely had time to scream as one of the orcs wrapped a hairy arm her around her waist, grabbed one of the ropes, and leapt into the darkness. Her breath caught in her throat as they fell, stifling her scream. The rope hissed and smoked as it slipped through the orc’s hand. She kept expecting him to let go of the rope and the two of them to plunge to their deaths but, instead, their descent slowed. By the light of the dwindling circle of sky above them, Elara could see the other orcs descending other ropes.
A yelp burst from Elara’s throat when the orc carrying her hit bottom with a painful thump. He released her and she sat on the damp stone floor and moaned. It was dark. The only light came from the sinkhole far above them. She could see that they were in a cavern, but its size was lost in the murk.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked. “Are you going to kill me?”
The orc bared his teeth and pointed. “Azg.”
Tears running down her cheeks, Elara got up and tried to walk in the direction the orc had indicated. She had not gone three steps before her foot caught on a rock unseen in the gloom and she fell, bruising her cheek painfully since her hands were still tied.
The orc grunted and grabbed her arm with a calloused hand, a hand still hot from the descent down the rope, and pulled her to her feet. She could then feel his hands working at her wrists. Shortly, the ropes around them fell free. The orc stood back and pointed again, “Azg.”
Untied now, Elara could possibly run, but where could she go? “Azg,” she said and walked in the direction the orc had pointed.
A tunnel led from the large entrance cavern. Elara stumbled along in the dark, guided by the orc’s hand on her shoulder.
As she walked, she began to see deeper shadows in the gloom, then more detail. There was light in the cave, not much, but enough to see. Streaks of soft light glowed from the walls and ceiling of the cave.
The orc removed his hand and simply pointed the way. When the cave branched, the orc said nothing, simply grunted and pointed. Mutely, Elara followed his directions.
A brighter light marked an opening ahead of them. As they approached, Elara could see that the light came from fires in a larger cavern. Many small tents dotted the cavern floor, each with a small fire before it.
The orc directed Elara to the center of the cavern where a smooth area formed the floor. A larger fire burned in a pit in the center of the cavern.
When they reached the fire, the orc took Elara’s wrist and lifted her hand high over her head. “Arnak te gimbtul!” he shouted.
Other orcs, tending cooking fires and other tasks looked up at that.
“Arnak te gimbtul!”
The other orcs started to gather around the fire. “Arnak te gimbtul.”
From somewhere, several orcs produced drums and began to beat a complicated rhythm.
Numb with fear, Elara followed as the orc led her to the fire. She screamed when the orc drew a long dagger from his belt and held it, point up, in front of her face.
“Arnak te gimbtul” he said then, in a quick stroke, drew the point of the dagger across her palm. Her hand burned as the dagger carved a bloody furrow across it.
Still holding her firmly by the wrist, the orc pulled her hand and held it over the fire so that blood from her hand dripped onto the burning wood. He held her there for a few seconds, then released her hand.
Elara stared at her hand, transfixed. Blood continued to well from the cut and ran down her arm. Her hand hurt. It throbbed. But she was still alive. They had not killed her, not yet.
The orc knelt in front of her. He reached out with one finger and almost gently tapped her in the chest. “Bak te gimtul gem.” He said more then, but Elara scarcely heard him. She did not understand anything that had happened since being taken from her home. She stared numbly at her captor as another orc placed a folded piece of wet cloth against her hand — a cloth that burned as it touched the cut — and bound it in place with a leather strap.
The orc led her from the fire to one of the larger tents and pointed at a thin blanket and a small pillow. Nodding, she rolled herself in the blanket. Lying there, she cried herself to sleep.