The Orc of Many Questions (The Tales of Many Orcs, #1) by Shane Murray by Shane Murray - Read Online

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The Orc of Many Questions (The Tales of Many Orcs, #1) - Shane Murray

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Afterword

Acknowledgments

To my family, the foundation from which I grew.

To my friends, who gave me the light to glow.

To Kerry Burke, the first person to read the drafts of every novel I have written. I know you will read whatever I write and that means more than you know. Every writer needs at least one reliable alpha reader.

To Raymond Tan, my cover artist, for giving me a glimpse of the orc of many questions.

To Cheryl Murphy, my editor, for helping to polish this story until it shone.

To David Adams, fellow writer and counsel through the good times and bad. Writing a story is a great a journey as any hero or villain will undertake, and it would be a sad one without a friend on the road.

And last, but surely not least, to all those who have read this far. Read on.

The Orc of Many Questions

Prologue - Why Orcs Don’t Ask Many Questions

I looked up at my father. His face was dark green with black spots scattered across his cheeks. He had no hair, and his eyes were a fierce red, like those of a white rabbit. I laughed at the thought and continued to stare, trailing my eyes along his stained yellow tusks. Mine had been getting bigger. In a few more cycles, they might even be as big as his.

Why do we need those?

Need what?

Tusks. I rubbed the white tips of my growing pair, trying to imagine what I would look like when mine got so big. I saw the pigs use them for digging. What do we use them for?

Boy, you ask too many questions. He swatted at me as though I were an insect. I ducked under his big hand and he continued. Thinking is not good for a blunc. It makes your muscles weak.

I lowered my head, looking to the pebbles beneath my bare feet for answers, scratching at them with my toe claws. They had none, so I looked back to my father.

But what are they for?

My father took a deep breath as if he was starved for air, then opened his mouth and roared, covering me with spittle. He straightened, the green blood slowly fading from the whites of his eyes.

That is what they are for, Flapping-Gums, my father said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Flapping-Gums was not my name, but it was what I was sometimes called by my father. Usually he just called me boy. Some called me other names: Three-Tongues, Big-Mouth, Talking-Wind; all different, yet all had an obvious underlying theme. I liked Talking-Wind the best.

I did not understand the answer my father had given, but I nodded. I rubbed my tusks again and decided that I had a better question.

Why do you have to go? I asked, wiping the spittle of the last answer from my face.

By the raging dead, those jaws of yours never stop, do they? My father sighed, a sound practically indistinguishable from his usual grunts, except that he lowered his head as he did so.

I leaned forward a little closer, sure that I would get a more favorable answer this time.

Because it’s autumn! He threw his hands in the air and gestured around him, as if the cool air would attest to his words.

I grumbled quietly. As ever, my father’s answers only left me with more questions. Still, my father and the other adults of the Storm-Fist tribe had been gone from the village for nearly three moon turns, and I was not going to pass up this chance so easily.

I opened my mouth to speak; then, noticing the irritated scowl forming on his face, decided to rephrase a little.

How come you have to fight?

My father poked me in the stomach with a fat, pointed nail. What is this?

My belly?

And what is in it?

Food.

That’s right. Now, where did that food come from?

You? I offered, grinning like a fool inviting trouble.

My father swatted at me again, and I ducked. This time I was a little too slow, or he was a little faster, and he managed to cuff me around the back of the head.

"Humans. The food came from the humans. Where do you think I have been all summer? Fool boy."

He reached down, grabbing my dirty and worn shirt, the red silk straining as he pulled me close. And this, he said, rubbing the thin fabric between his fingers. Where did this come from?

The back of my head throbbed. I knew what he wanted to hear. Elves, you brought me this last autumn.

My father looked to the sky and let out a groan, relieved to receive a straight answer. He reached down to his leather belt, easing his hand over a steel battleax, its edge chipped and scarred from dozens of battles. And how about this, my boy?

He drew the weapon, holding it still in front of his face as he examined the straight lines marking the side of the ax head, somehow understanding what they meant. It was a heavy ax, solid steel. Despite the weight, his thick muscles easily kept it steady.

Where did this come from?

I stared at the ax for a moment, his runningax, the one he always carried when he chased me. I asked the weapon to divulge its secrets. It soon became apparent that the ax was of the silent kind. I don’t know.

Ha! Not so smart after all, eh? That’s good. I would not want all that thinking to hurt the rest of you. He gave me a satisfied nod. I was finally behaving properly. This ax comes from the dwarves. The dwarves make the strongest steel, and the strongest steel makes the best weapons.

Then the elves make the best clothing? And the humans the best food?

My father growled and swung again. Luckily I was a bit farther back this time and managed to duck. Again with the thinking! A young blunc like you should be using his energy to grow strong, not to think! His face grew a lighter shade of green as a flush of rage hit, his ax arm jerking the weapon around erratically. Gah! I swear you will be dead before you receive your breeding rights!

I stepped back, eyeing the ax, readying to dodge or flee. Then the bright green glow in my father’s face started to fade, and I relaxed.

But yes, you are correct, he admitted. The stubby fingers and thick heads of the dwarves make it hard for them to create anything delicate. They make good heavy weapons, maces and axes, and thick armor, just don’t try to move in it. The humans have good harvests and make more practical armor, swords, and crossbows. The elves like speed and soft things. Their weak fingers make the best clothes, bows, and ironwood blades—

So what do we make? I asked excitedly, only then remembering how much my father hated being interrupted. I took several steps back, anticipating the erupting volcano. My legs were tensed and ready, waiting for the slightest hint of movement.

Instead my father grinned wide, excitement creeping into his eyes. War. We make war.

I narrowed my eyes, then looked to the sky above as I do when I get curious. Sometimes the blueness and clouds helps me think. So we don’t make anything? I mean like, you know, stuff.

Why make when we can take? We are not a race of makers.

But the stuff of the other races...what do we do when it doesn’t fit?

Well the Mend-Ars and the Shape-Ars fix it. They make it fit.

So...we are a race of fixers?

My father’s face turned bright green, a hue so light that his skin almost seemed to glow. I chuckled at my own wit, though my laughter was short-lived, as my father charged towards me. I did not think that my father would intentionally kill me, but considering that he was running with an ax in hand, I decided to err on the side of caution.

I shot off like a hare or a fox or a sparrow—something agile and quick. I darted around the side of my father, my feet and toe claws kicking up dust. My father wasn’t the only one irritated by my questions. I was good at running.

My father spun, ax slicing up and down with each long stride. He was quick today, and my cheeks still hurt from yesterday’s questions. I probably should have just run away and hid behind a tent somewhere, but I liked being around my father, angry or not.

Why don’t we make anything?

My father roared and continued to chase. I dodged to the left, catching my father flat-footed, avoiding his hand and runningax, though as usual, I failed to avoid all the spittle of his crazed shouting.

Why do we take? I panted and sucked in air for more words. Why not make? Why?

He charged again, dwarven steel in hand. I was pushing my father too far. I was smart, and I knew what would happen, but my curiosity tended to make me temporarily stupid. I didn’t care.

I should have.

I turned to flee, and my foot hit a stone. I began falling backwards, looking fearfully at the ground below me, my arms flailing wildly as they tried to fly me back upright. My body righted itself, and I turned my head back just in time to see my father with his ax held high, the whites of his eyes greenshot and his muscles swollen with rageblood.

This was why orcs weren’t known for asking too many questions. For all my brains, my memory was sometimes very short.

At the last moment, a flicker of recognition crossed my father’s face, and he pivoted, hitting me with a backhand that sent me spinning into the air. Hard ground scraped against my skin and air fled my lungs, my mind and body too stunned by the blow to do anything to lessen the fall.

My father reached down and picked me up by the hair. My feet kicked the air. His face only a few orc fingers from mine, he roared, once again bathing my face in saliva.

"You want to know why we take, my wise little son? He brought me in so close the heat of his breath warmed my face. Or maybe you want to know why we kill?"

I shook my head. No, I didn’t need that information. The truth was that I was pretty fond of life, my own in particular.

My father stretched his arm out, leaving me an orc-length away, too far to fight back. He turned his eyes to his ax. My breath caught. He dropped it, and I let out a sigh.

He slapped me. Once, twice, over again until my cheeks burned. I felt something explode inside of me, roaring from my stomach and spreading through my veins. I shot my mouth open and roared at my father, returning some of his earlier spittle as my sight filled with a green haze. I kicked and scratched and clawed at him, screaming, cursing without words, for my mind was empty, made void by the storm of rage.

My father reached back and flung me, ripping out a handful of my hair. Air rushed by, and I hit the ground with a thud, landing as gracefully as a heavy stone. A fire inside my belly bade me to rise and I struggled to my feet. I would kill him. I would bite out his throat and feast upon him. I would—

My father kicked me hard in the stomach, knocking the wind completely out of me. My anger faded; my lungs no longer had the air to sustain its furious winds. I remained on the ground, closed my eyes, and tried to focus on breathing.

That is why we fight. Now you understand.

I swallowed. Yes, I—thank you—for your, I searched for the right word, for your wisdom, Father, I said, coughing between words as I tried to suck in air. It was a lie though. Despite my father’s words of wisdom, I was still confused.

My father folded his arms across his chest. He looked down at me, his pointed tusks framing the edges of a toothy smile, obviously satisfied with the quality of his instruction.

That was a typical lesson from my father.

Chapter 1 - Why Orcs Don’t Want to Come Home

My father was sleeping, and I was watching, waiting, crouched down next to him. When he woke, I would pounce like a hare or a frog; I would...I thought for a moment. Neither of those seemed like very good choices.

A fox. Yes, I would pounce like a fox. I did not need to be squatting to ask a question, but it seemed a little pathetic to ask an ambush question in a nonambush-like position. I drummed the dirt floor of the tent with my hands, trying to remember the beat the drummers had played last night. It served two purposes. First, it kept me amused while I waited. Second, it made a steady stream of noise close to my father’s ears. He had to wake up eventually.

I saw my father shift, and a sound escaped his wide nose. A snore. My head dropped, and I sighed as my father rolled over, sliding his arm underneath a blanket of wolf fur and around my sleeping mother.

Father? I asked hopefully.

A pause.

No. Please. It’s too early...I give up. I surrender. Give an old orc a little peace before I have to see another raging tribute.

My father drank a lot last night; most orcs did the day before our tributes to the masters of the mountain peaks. During the return celebrations, Ar Storm-Fist, my father’s closest friend and the tribe’s namesake, dared my father to drink dwarven blackwater, alcohol brewed from underland fungi and critters. It was strong and smelled like feces, though I had no real idea what it tasted like. Unlike my father, I was not stupid enough to drink the stuff. The outside of our tent still stunk from him repeatedly emptying his stomach during the night.

My father was at my mercy. Both he and I knew that.

Why do we live here, you know, in the mountains?

My father let out a defeated groan. I swear one of these days that mouth of yours is going to get you killed, Flapping-Gums.

That was probably true.

I pinched my nose against the smell outside the tent. But not today.

My father shifted his arm away from my mother, the blanket rustling as he brought a hand up to massage his temples. No, probably not today. Maybe tomorrow when a certain orc’s head isn’t making thunder.

I leaned a little closer and whispered in my father’s ear. "If a certain orc remembers."

I stayed ready, expecting my father to swing at me. After holding my breath for a few seconds, I realized that no attack was forthcoming.

Somehow I was a little disappointed.

Yes. Think on that.

I did. My father would probably forget by tomorrow, no matter how many questions I asked. Just as it had yesterday, sometimes my curiosity made me stupid. I still didn’t care.

I have finished thinking.

And? my father asked in the lengthy drawl of those who wish for sleep.

Why do we live in the mountains?

My father made a sound like he was dying and swung at me. I easily hopped away, coming back once my father’s hand returned to rub his weary head.

I laughed. My father’s attack was pathetically slow.

Ask your mother, he begged, a thick blob of drool dribbling its way from his lips to the dirt floor as he spoke. He squinted at me, the dim light of the tent hurting his eyes.

I turned my head to the side, rested it on my shoulder, and drooled as I imitated my father. My father scowled but was far too tired to summon his usual green-eyed rage. I knew that I was asking for a beating, though such thoughts were a long way off. I did not get chances like this very often.

I said ask your mother, boy. Are you deaf?

Mother is asleep. How is she supposed to answer my question?

You only think in words, boy. You will learn. My father elbowed my mother, who rolled over to face me and opened her large yellow eyes.

Good morning, Mother. I said, looking into her unblinking gaze. Why do we live in the mountains?

My mother nodded.

I narrowed my eyes. A nod? What was that supposed to mean?

As if replying to my thoughts, my mother stood and walked out of the tent. I followed.

I felt very small as I walked behind my mother. She was a stone orc—tall—almost a head bigger than my fire orc father and more heavily muscled. A blunc had told me once that the stronger a stone orc, the less they talk. Most stone orcs talked at least a little. I had never heard my mother speak, not even once. The pebbles beneath her feet cried in protest as she stepped, making my own stride seem soft and graceful like a bird.

Had my mother not caught and eaten a bird yesterday? Bone, feather, and all? I shook my head to dismiss the memory, though it still bothered me. I was fast, but I was pretty sure that I was not faster than a