Long oars dipped and rose in rhythmic cadence propelling the large trireme through white capped seas. Starved, thirst plagued men groaned and labored beneath the unyielding whip of the ship’s taskmaster. To slow down or talk meant a harsh reprisal. Every crack of the barbed whip brought a smile to the large Orcs face.
Among the prisoners sat Aleric, a bloody tattered shirt barely clinging to his strong form. Several strips of crimson stained his back and shoulders. Between gritted teeth he forced tired arms to work. Quiting meant another lashing at the hands of a sadistic master.
Sweat soaked his body. Fresh wounds stung with every droplet set free from damp hair. A large thick chain kept him bound to those on either side. For hours on end they’d worked to keep the ship moving forward. Not a one among them held the strength to even dare raise defiant eyes towards those on the upper deck. Every splash of the oar brought back memories of friends lost to the monster’s blades. The battle had been short. Yet more Orcs and Verni lay dead than did those he once served beside.
A single tear slipped down his cheek. In his mind’s eye Berin stood tall in the darkness of the galleon’s hold while the Orc leader gave the command to kill him. Spears lanced out to pierce his friends chest and sides. It was a sight he swore to never witness again. Grim thoughts struggled to maintain their grip on reality as revenge flooded his soul. More than anything he wanted to run a sword through the swine who’d sent so many to their grave.
Patience. It was a small voice. One nearly unheard amidst the chaos of wave and man. In the distance Orcs laughed. The creatures guttural snorts prodded on the rage in his heart.
Lost in angers thoughtless embrace, Aleric tore the oar from the water only to slam it into another wave a second later. To either side those closest grunted in pain at the violent movement. He longed to let loose the pain ravaging his mind. The chains locking him to the other prisoners on the oar rattled.
“Save your strength boy,” said an red haired giant of a man sitting next to him.
Aleric met the man’s eyes for only a second before the crack of a whip brought his head around in sudden anticipation. He waited for the inevitable sting yet it never appeared. A grunt from the red haired man. The words had cost another to endure pain which was rightfully his to bear.
Through wet blurry eyes he looked up to the sky. High above twin suns raced closer to the horizon. Soon they would told to stop while another crew unfurled the sole sail which would speed them along throughout the too short night. It was the life of a prisoner. One he wanted nothing more to do with. Silently he prayed for a way to reek vengeance on those who’d stolen the lives of friend and stranger alike.
With his eyes still locked on twin Sun’s, he caught the sight of a blue portal materializing on the upper deck. From within the swirling mass a man in golden robes emerged followed by another. His charge. An elvish princess he and his company had been tasked with protecting.
The mage he knew as well. An elf by the name of Gorianis. It was he who’d betrayed his friends the most. Instead of creating such a portal when the storm overtook them, the mage chose to save himself and the princess. For Aleric it was a betrayal he was not soon to forget. Just the sight of the self righteous elf made his blood run cold. More than any other he wanted to see the man dead. He strained his ears to listen to just what was being said.
“Have your men take the princess below decks so that we may speak in peace,” said Gorianis.
“You mage. ME leader!” said a large brown skinned Orc with littering his chest and shoulders.
“Then be a good one and save me the trouble of killing all your men,” said the Gorianis unphased by the larger Orcs overbearing presence.
“Do what smelly mage suggest,” said the Orc leader snarling with every word spoken.
A sudden crack of the whip and Aleric felt the barbed tip of the spear tear a ragged hole in his shoulder. Slick blood oozed from the fresh wound. He wanted to cry out. Through gritted teeth he forced the wound open as he pushed the oar forward once more. Anger still burned red hot in his veins though a new sensation began to take hold. Hopelessness. That most depressing of emotions. More than once he’d seen it take hold of others on the battlefield. It never took hold in his heart. Until now, when faced against a mountain of Orc flesh and a single mage. Gorianis was by far the greater threat. Few in number, magic users were one group even a hardened warrior shied away from. Just the thought of taking a firebolt or lightning strike to the chest made him cringe.
On the deck above he barely heard a heavy door slamming shut. The princess was now hidden from the darkness about to take place. Aleric braced himself.
“Slime! Get that sail down!” ordered the taskmaster.
The suns had yet to dip below the horizon. Something was different. Beside him the red haired man shook his head. To the other side he cast his gaze. A half orc looking man refused to look up from the deck below. Both were uncommonly subdued. Whatever was about to take place didn’t bode well for him. As the newest of the prisoners he was unaware of what the mages appearance signaled.
“Where is the one called Aleric?” said Gorianis using some unseen power to make his voice boom across the large ship.
“Right here!” said Aleric defiantly starting up from the hard splinter ridden bench.
“Ah. So full of youthful fight. Soon you shall learn just what a folly being valiant is. For now though how about a little demonstration?” said Gorianis smiling despite the hate filled glare Aleric cast his way.
“Release me and it will be you who gets the lesson, coward!” spat Aleric with all the vinegar his anger could provide.
On the broad deck splitting the ship, the taskmaster raised the whip over his back. Aleric refused to look away. Even if it killed him, he refused to show weakness in the face of such as Gorianis.
A wave of Gorianis’ hand stayed the whip. Another wave of a hand and the chains binding Aleric dropped free. He took a quick glance at now unchained wrists before returning his eyes to settle on Gorianis. Two quick steps and a leap took him onto the broad deck. The object of his hate mere feet away. Orcs scrambled from their posts on either side as the mage walked calmly behind two oversized brutes.
Undeterred, Aleric charged ahead. Forgotten was the pain of the last several hours. Instead a newfound vigor filled his overworked muscles. The distance between them closed rapidly. Aleric let loose a battlecry. Safe behind the brutes, Gorianis smiled.
A jagged curved blade split the air. Aleric easily batted the crudely held weapon away. Lowering his shoulder, he slammed into the larger man’s chest. In a tangle of arms and legs the two tumbled to the deck. Prisoners shouted for their champion. Aleric was the first to his feet, delivering a final knee to the Orc’s unblocked face. Onward rushed the second brute sword held high over a pig like head. Crossing his arms above his head, he caught the Orcs downward rushing arm. A quick step to the side before he ran a hand along the brute’s outstretched forearm. For a second both men held stubbornly to the sword. Aleric lashed out with a solid hit to the Orc’s head. The brute stumbled back. Not satisfied to just wound the man, he spun around bringing the sword in a high arc.
Blood spurted from the Orc’s neck as it stumbled towards the mage in utter shock. A panicked whistle. At the rear of the ship a door flew open. More Orcs than could be counted poured forth jagged bladed weapons held at the ready. Aleric hesitated. Behind him the first assailant clambered to his feet. Instinctively he spun around letting the sharp blade bite deep into the brute’s chest. Stunned, it fell to the deck letting its sword drop free. Using the toe of his boot, he sent the discarded weapon rising into a waiting hand.
A quick reversal and his own sword tore free of the man’s half sheared corpse. In a hate driven fury, he charged towards Gorianis once more. Orcs scrambled to block his path. A hasty parry sent a too confident Orc stumbling back as his second blade drove deep into an exposed chest. He hastily blocked another blow aimed for his head. Aleric slashed. Another Orc fell.
Boots clambered on the deck behind him. A backwards roll took him close to the charging brutes. Without looking he thrust both blades back and up. Two solid thumps and the brutes lifeless fingers let their swords drop free. Aleric withdrew the blades from the still standing corpses.
“Enough of this!” said Gorianis walking between two nearby Orcs to stand before a kneeling Aleric.
“So the coward finally chooses to face me,” said Aleric rising to his feet only to wipe splotches of enemy blood from his snarling face.
“Oh how much you’ve yet to learn. Why is it that no other slave has risen to join you? Have you even wondered? They vastly outnumber their captors. Even more so now with you killing so many. Surely they could emerge victorious. So I ask again what stays their hand?” said Gorianis smiling.
“No more talking mage! This is for Berien!” said Aleric lunging towards Gorianis.
Gorianis raised a single hand. Aleric was frozen in place. No matter how he fought to break free, an invisible web held him fast. The mage shook his head in mirth. Orcs laughed. Prisoners bowed their heads knowing the hero was defeated. Rage turned his vision black. The young warrior roared. Without warning the web loosened its hold.
Free once more Aleric charged towards the shocked mage. Steel rang against steel as his blades met another larger single weapon. He stumbled back under the weight of the Orc leader’s single blow. Blood trickled from a cut to his cheek. Underterred he ducked beneath a high slash only to find himself rolling back to avoid two more onrushing brutes. Curved blades sang as he dispatched each with a well timed parry and counter. Onward they swarmed around the Orc leader, intent on being the one to kill the upstart warrior. After retrieving his blades from the corpses of two others, Aleric began to feel a strange energy gathering in the air.
“Bereth Actum Reporin Smarn!” said Gorianis each word said more forceful than the last.
Without warning Aleric found himself slammed to the deck, an invisible hand pressing hard onto his back. Ribs groaned beneath the sudden pressure. It felt as if his entire body was being smashed into the very being of the deck. He expected to hear the audible crack of timber beginning to snap. There was nothing but the taunting voice of the Orc leader as he kicked both swords free from Aleric’s loosened grip.
Just when he thought he could take no more, he felt himself being lifted into the air. Before his eyes the mage approached. This time there was no smile. Only a look of pure satisfaction.
“Do you understand now? There is no victory against one such as I,” said Gorianis moving to stand scant inches from Aleric’s prone form.
“Without this unnatural sorcery I could take you any day,” said Aleric letting his anger bore into Gorianis.
“That would be like me taking away your swords.”
“I’m game if you are,” said Aleric grinning despite the blood slipping from a torn lip.
“This lesson is at an end I am afraid. There are more important matters to which I must attend,” said Gorianis tapping the top of Alerics head.
Where seconds before the ship filled his vision, after the touch there was only darkness.