Erik The Orc



Yes, I knew Erik the Orc.  A true orc he was, with a round pig-nose that met his upper lip, sharp tusks that rose from his jaw, sparse hair on his head and a body like a walrus with thick arms and legs attached.  And he was the last king of Montelia.  I will tell my tale so long as you buy the ale.

I know you look at me and see nothing but an old man, but I had my time.  You see before you what remains of Sir Philip of Kellen, once vassal of Markus the Second, who ruled Montelia for over four decades.  Good King Markus, his subjects had named him.  I wish he ruled still, but no man lives forever, and one evening at supper, Good King Markus collapsed in his soup bowl and was no more.

The nation mourned, yes, but mourned quickly as a struggle for succession arose.  Markus had outlived his heirs, and the only relation anyone knew of was his cousin's daughter, Lady Kimberly, an ambitious woman with a reputation for vindictiveness.  The law said the crown would be hers, but I was not alone in my opinion that the power to remove men's heads in her hands would lead to tragic results.

Would I support Kimberly?  Unless another heir could be found, I would have no choice in the matter.  So I consulted Raymond the Alchemist, among whose duties t'was to keep the royal records.  Raymond was thorough in his research and kept me waiting until three days after the royal funeral, and then came to my quarters at midnight, wearing secrecy as one wears a cloak in the cold.  He lit a candle and waited for me to awaken.

"The son of Good King Markus's sister lives," he whispered.

"Princess Jennifer had an unacknowledged son?" I wondered.  T'was not my wish to soil the reputation of a kind and virtuous woman.

"Not Jennifer," Raymond whispered.  "Elizabeth."

I sat up at that.  Princess Elizabeth had left her father's court behind to become a witch.  And not a normal witch, mind you, who sells cures and blesses plantings.  She had devoted herself to the enemy of the gods whose name I dare not mention.

"What sort of man is he?" I asked, quietly.

"Sheriff of Glenn Bannard," he said. "and not a man, precisely."

"What then?" I whispered sharply.

"Erik the Orc," he confided.

Orc!  I'll not repeat the oaths I let fly at that.  All knew the lore, that an orc could be born only through a profane union made possible by such black magic as that unnamed entity bestowed upon its devoted followers.  The church would never sanction such a walking heresy as king of Montelia.

"I must beg thy leave," Raymond scolded.  "Lest I be seen by any who thy words hast roused."

"You may go," I mumbled quietly, as though I had not just shouted curses at midnight.  Raymond fled my quarters while I tried to sleep.  What was I to do?  I was loath to support Lady Kimberly as queen, but to replace her with such a creature could be worse.  Or, was I to blacken my armor and move on.  With the title of knight came land and an army to defend it.  Were I to leave, I would be replaced by whichever grinning lackey won Lady Kimberly's favor.

I rose before sunrise.  Sir Reginald and three of his men waited at my door.  Under Good King Markus, Sir Reginald and myself had been the only knights who served the crown directly, and he had been a trusted friend to me.  Now, he stood waiting in full armor, with his sword on his back.

"Her Majesty has ordered your arrest," he said with sad formality.

"Her Majesty?" I protested.

"High Priest Galio says the crown is to go to Kimberly," he said.  "And Kimberly accuses you of subversion".  I wondered if Raymond had betrayed me, or had simply lacked caution.

"You would arrest me, old friend?" I asked.

"A knight must obey," he said with regret.

I was taken to the main dining hall, where Kimberly banished me over breakfast, and then went to the barracks where some of my former men were stationed.  I was able to call up my lieutenants as though I were still a knight.  Two hours later I met my men on the road, mounted and wearing my own armor.

"Is this all who came?" I asked.  There were but a half-dozen, two lieutenants, three soldiers and a doctor.

"For now," answered Sir Peter.  "It has been but two hours.  Most will remain in the crown's service, but we are loyal."  Sir Peter had served me since we had fought side by side years ago.  The others were Sir Scott, who had also served me well, and three soldiers I did not recognize.  The doctor was Markus's royal physician, George the Healer.  I decided that we would ride to Glen Bannard and explained why as we traveled.

Glenn Bannard was a modest farming village just beyond the border between Montelia and Kranard, a small kingdom with a large army, ruled by King Hershel, a former mercenary, little better than a bandit, with whom peace was only possible through Montelia's greater might.  I would at least meet Erik the Orc.  We rode through my lands and then Sir Reginald's, avoiding the main roads and hoping that we proceeded the news of my banishment.  The village lay across the unguarded boarder, just beyond the bridge over the river Baine.

Along the way, we had discussed our strategy.  Nobody had a better idea than contacting Erik, although George the Healer had a worse one.  He favored republic over monarchy.  Good King Marcus had tolerated his sentiments due to his skill as a physician, but he was with us because he doubted that Lady Kimberly would be so permissive.  My ideas on the matter were that we had come as close to being a republic as we were able, as most every town or village had an elected mayor, but a monarch could respond to a threat without a debate.

There was but one man in Glen Bannard's sheriff's house, who told us that Erik the Orc was playing hide and seek with some of the village children.  A hopeful sign, as an evil creature would not be so trusted.  Soon, we were sharing a haunch of mutton in the tavern.  Martha, our fat serving wench, had only our table to serve.  When asked, she told us that the sheriff normally arrived at sunset.

The tavern began to fill with peasants as the sun sank.  Erik the Orc made his appearance and was greeted with surprising familiarity, beastie that he was.  He was short and heavy, dressed in brown leather armor with a wooden star on his breast and carried a fine halberd.  Martha greeted him and seated him at our table.

"Greetings," I said, uncomfortable.  "I would be Sir Philip of Kellen, and I bring sad tidings.  Thy uncle Markus has passed."  The orc swallowed audibly.

"Cheer up, Erik," Martha said, serving drinks.  "You must be mentioned in his will."  She gave Erik a pint of whiskey, which he ignored as he looked to me with expectation.

"More than that," I began.  I explained the circumstances of my visit while Erik looked skeptical.  Then he downed his pint in one draft.

"By the gods!" George exclaimed, eyeing Erik with professional suspicion.  The others at the table chuckled while I wondered if the orc was mute.

T'was then that the dining room door burst open. "To arms!"  The cry came from a well dressed, fatherly sort of man who rushed in.  "An army comes!"  There was a commotion and Erik stood and took up his halberd.

The man approached him, breathless.  "Erik, a price has been placed on your head, and our king comes to collect."

Erik, no mute after all, disgorged a stream of hog-squeal curses and then turned to us and spoke.  His voice was higher then I would have expected and scratchy. "If I am to be your king, attend me?"

"What is thy wish, Sire?" I asked, perturbed.

"I must leave here, lest the village be burned and looted."  He turned to the message bearer.  "Begging thy leave, Mayor."

"We're no cowards," shouted a young and cocky farmer.  "If they want our sheriff, they'll get a fight!"

"For which I am grateful," Erik said.  "But my first duty is to protect this  village, so go  I must.  Whence comes they?"

"Round the mountains and over the bridge," the mayor said gravely.

The orc turned to me, furious.  "You have horses?"  I nodded.  "Mount up and make ready to lead an army away from Glenn Bannard.  What say you?"

I looked to my men.  Peter nodded and George finished his ale.  "As is thy wish," I decided.

We rushed to the inn's stables and then looked for Eric.  I ordered my men to the bridge, except for George the Healer, who was to await our return.  We found Erik there, standing with his halberd braced.  An army approached, led by King Hershel and Sir Reginald.

"Be ready!" Erik commanded, advancing onto the bridge.

"We have a mount for thee," I offered.  "Come with us?"

"No horse will carry me," Erik hissed.

King Hershel's men clattered onto the bridge three abreast.  Lancers they were, preparing to charge.  "Go!" Erik squealed.

"Sire please!" Sir Scott exclaimed.

"Come!" I ordered, making a show of fleeing and hoping to be followed.

"Hale!" Erik cried.  No response came and the lancers charged.  Lance cracked against halberd as Eric parried left and stepped right.  He avoided the lance but was knocked aside by the horse and fell, tumbling down the steep bank into the river. Sir Peter shouted taunts and then we fled.  We spent the night in the forested hills, then turned back toward the village with caution.

"Signal!" Sir Scott whispered harshly, pointing to a small, abandoned cabin.  I studied the light in a window.  Dim orange one-two-three, bright yellow one-two, a subtle signal used by the royal messengers.  We approached cautiously and the door swung open to reveal a tall, slim man with a hawk-nose.

"Anthony!" I called quietly.  He grinned and motioned for us to come, and we filed inside. Erik the Orc lay on a homemade and rotting couch in one corner, attended by George the Healer and Martha the serving wench.  Anthony the Carrier extinguished the lantern by the window.

"I am pleased to see that thou liveth still, Sire," I told the darkness.

"Thanks to the good doctor, my bleeding has ceased," came the orc's voice.  "I know not when I will walk again."

"Good Martha found him and brought him here," George the Healer added.  "When she found me, Anthony had arrived and we both followed."

"Aye," Anthony confirmed.  "The doctor treated his injuries with medicine and his ears to republican sentiments."

"I serve the elected mayor," Erik added.  "Not our rascal of a king."

"The priests will never support a republic," I murmured dismissively.

"The priests that burned my mother!" Erik replied bitterly.  "I care not!"

"Sire please," Anthony whispered. "We must keep quiet and dark, lest your rascal of a king collects on Kimberly's bounty."  Nobody answered.

Anthony went out at dawn and returned.  The way was clear.

"What now?" asked Erik.

"As many loyal soldiers as could be assembled wait at Kellen," Anthony answered.  The town of Kellen, my childhood home, lay across the border in Montelia.

"Doth thou wish to try to claim the crown?" I asked Erik.  "And canst thou walk?"

"T'would seem I have no other choice," he  growled.  He was right.  Lady Kimberly would have climbed over both our corpses to claim the crown no matter what we did.  "To Kellen," I decided.

Martha began to leave.  "You depart?" I wondered.

"I must return to the inn," she said, as though nothing important had happened.

"For your assistance, you have my gratitude," I said.  "I'll forget you not."

She smiled.  "Anything for our sheriff," she answered. "Please guard his back carefully."

Anthony led us over the bridge and through the mountains.  We moved slowly on horseback, but no horse would carry an orc anyhow.  My men began to reminisce about Good King Markus.

"What troubles you?" I asked George.

"We were there, you and I, when King Markus passed.  His eyes rolled up and his mouth foamed.  Poison.  And he was not the only one.  T'would be no accident that Lady Kimberly is the king's only living relation."

Erik made a shocked squeal that silenced all.  "I now stand between her and the crown," he murmured.

"We shall surely arrange a food taster at every meal," Sir Scott declared.

"Food Taster?" Erik spat.

"Someone to taste your food to be sure t'is safe," I explained.

"You expect me to force a man to die for me," Erik complained.  "T'is even worse."

"Well... They will..." I fumbled, seeking justification.

"We would be better off with an elected counsel," George interrupted.

"No less vulnerable to poison than royalty," Sir Peter responded.

"Death at the hands of King Hershel or death by poison.  I would be no better off than Mother.  I've tried to live a kinder life than she, but I'll be murdered anyway because of my royal blood," Eric muttered.  He noticed that I was listening.  "I was there when she was tried and burned at the stake," he said.  "Barely escaped myself."

"Condolences," I said sheepishly.

Sir Scott wondered, "Did thy father give thee sanctuary?  Was he Sheriff?"

"No," Erik whispered.  "I never knew my father.  Mother ate him before I was born."

Sir Scott looked too shocked to speak.

"Pork Chops," Sir Peter confided, not quietly enough.

"Silence, man!" I ordered.

"He speaks truth," Erik said with gentle resignation.  "A kind family hid me, I'll not say who.  Sheriff I earned later."

"You survived," George congratulated.

Erik grunted.

Ahead of us, Anthony gestured for quiet and we all shut our mouths.  We had come to a road that led over the hills and straight to Kellen.  "I recommend that thou hide thyself, Sire." Anthony whispered, offering his green hooded cloak.  I saw nobody on the road, yet.  We moved much more quickly and soon we saw the low wall that surrounded the town.  The gate swung open and a man in armor stood at attention just inside.  T'was one of my sergeants, Douglass of Emer.  He said t'was best that we go inside the local inn.

A servant took our horses and we hurried through the gate.  The Inn was crowded with about thirty of my troops, who assembled as I entered. Aside from our party, Sergeant Douglass was the only one with rank.  Erik went behind the bar and prepared himself a pint of whisky, burping loudly after he drank.

"The heir has spoken," I declared ruefully.

The soldiers laughed raucously.  One drunken recruit piped up.  "What did he say?"

"I said I feel much better!" Erik translated.

"Who is he?" someone else asked.

"What is he?" asked another.

I spoke up.  "He is Erik the Orc, son of the king's sister and heir to the crown. Be respectful."

Douglass began shouting orders and the men made three neat rows.  "I present our loyal forces," he shouted in Erik's direction.  Erik climbed on the bar and looked about to speak, but swayed drunkenly, prompting Sir Peter to rush to his aid.

"Thou hast drunk Kellen's famously potent whisky," I observed.

"More," Erik demanded, sitting on the bar.

I was just about to lend a few words of caution when a farmer rushed in.  "We are besieged!  King Hershel's army surrounds us!"

"To Arms!" I ordered.  My lieutenants and I gathered around Erik, who downed another pint as men scrambled for their weapons and rushed out.

"This is the tallest building in town," I said, calculating.  I turned to Erik.  "Canst thou climb the spiral stairway?"

Erik laughed, making a sound like a rusty wagon wheel.  "Let us find out."

Erik barely succeeded in climbing the stairs, followed by Sir Scott and myself.  From the roof, we could see past the town to where King Hershel and his knights gathered.  All soldiers carried torches and did surround us.  I spotted Sir Reginald with him, and I think I recognized the insignia of several of Reginald's men there as well.  The King removed his helm and shouted, "Surrender or burn!"

Erik swore drunkenly.  "I thought we'd be safe from him within the borders of Montelia," I lamented.  Sir Scott kept silent.

Three burning arrows flew.  One landed harmlessly in the road, another stuck in a thatched rooftop and began to spread.  The third landed in a lump of brown grass near the inn, dangerously close to three kegs of whisky.

"That was a warning," Hershel shouted. " Bring out the orc or all of my archers will shoot."

Erik approached the edge of the roof.  "His warning will aaaghh!"  He lost his balance and fell, flopping onto the flames.

"Doth thou live still?" I shouted.

"The fire is out," Erik called, rising.

"Give us the orc!" King Hershel demanded.

"He'll murder us if we yield," I said.

"This town is too bloody flammable," answered Scott, surveying thatched rooftops of wooden buildings.  "We shall have to fight our way out."  One roof already blazed as peasants rushed to the well with buckets.

"Against so many," I agreed miserably.  "Where is Erik?"

I saw the front gate slowly swing open and Erik waked out, unarmed.  I began to pray.

"No!" Sir Reginald shouted.  "He has surrendered and shall not be harmed, you blackguard!  You shall have your bounty, but this is my land and my men will take the orc!"

"Thank you, " I said to the gods.

"Shall I fetch Peter and Anthony to follow them," asked Scott.

"And George," I added.  "I shall be watching the enemy."  I carefully snuck to the gatehouse.  Sir Reginald and about fifty of his horsemen headed toward the royal palace, while Hershel led the rest toward his kingdom.  When the others came, we followed Sir Reginald down a broad road with stone walls on either side, but his party made haste while we attempted not to be seen.  We had lost sight of them and sought signs of their passage.

"Halt!"  T'was Sir Reginald, just beyond the wall to our right.  His men were with him, although all I could see were helms and crossbows.  Sir Reginald's horse leapt over the wall with ease.  "Yield, please," he pleaded.

"I yield," I said dejectedly.  We surrendered our weapons and mounts, and were soon walking with Erik, surrounded by our captors.  Sir Reginald led the way in silence while we were near the rear.

Erik looked miserable.  "How badly art thou injured, Sire?" I asked.

"I feel like a dragon's dinner," Erik moaned.  "But I can walk."

"Perhaps George the Healer should have a look," I suggested.  I looked to one of our captors for permission.

"So long as you keep moving," he ordered gruffly.

George's examination involved no more than asking questions.  Erik was bruised and hungover, but no worse.  George handed him a potion from his bag and he sipped it as carefully as I wished he had been with Kellen's whiskey.  We arrived at the palace with the first light of dawn.  A guardsman asked Sir Reginald to wait while Lady Kimberly was roused.

High Priest Galio arrived first, favoring Eric with a disapproving scowl.  Moment's later, Lady Kimberly stood beside him, pretentious enough to wear a purple cloak.

The woman sneered.  "Really, Sir Phillip!  You would replace me with this thing."  She turned to Galio.  "What would be the verdict of the Gods?"

Righteous fury lit Galio's face like a burning sinner in the night.  "Exile for the others, but that abomination shall have not another minute of life."  He drew a dagger from his sleeve.  "Allow me!"  He stepped forward only to be blocked by Sir Reginald, broadsword in hand.  The priest looked as though his alter had been smashed.  He struggled with all the might his feeble old body could muster as two of Reginald's men took him by the arms.

"Reginald!"  Lady Kimberly exclaimed bitterly.

Reginald removed his helm to reveal a face full of old scars and defiant pride.  "Thou hast not been crowned," he spat.

"And would you have this foul creature for your liege?"

"Foul creature?" Reginald rumbled. "I was there at the bridge over the river Baine when this... foul creature stood alone against an army so his allies could escape.  I was there in Kellen when he flung himself from the roof of the inn to halt a fire before it grew into a whisky-fed blaze.  I was there when he surrendered to your murderous mercenary to spare the entire town from being burned.  Three brave and honorable deeds!  What noble deeds hast thou to thy name?"

Kimberly was silent with disbelief.  Sir Reginald waited, and her indignant manner slowly bore the taint of guilt.  Reginald turned, raising his sword.  "By the power vested in me by Good King Marcus, I recognize thee, Erik the Orc, as King of Montelia!"  With that he tapped Erik's head with the flat of his sword and then knelt.  I was next to kneel, and a moment later only Kimberly, Galio and the two men who held him were on their feet.

Erik's eyes narrowed.  "I am king?" he shouted.  "My word is law?"

I nodded.  Kimberly muttered something, but I could not hear her over Galio shouting about the illegality of such a coronation and that we did invite the wrath of the gods.  I saw King Erik smile for the first time, and t'was a frighteningly wicked grin.

"Take that to the dungeon!," he said, gesturing to Galio.  "And her!"  As Reginald's soldiers hauled away Galio and Kimberly, Erik approached George.  "I never wanted to be king," he said.  "George, you would hold elections and organize a parliament?"

George gasped in disbelief.  "Yes Sire!"

"Swear to the gods?"

George settled himself and spoke with reverence. "I swear I will hold elections and organize a parliament, may the gods strike me down if I falter."

"Rise, Sir Reginald," Erik commanded.  "Sword!"  Reginald handed the king his broadsword. "George the Healer,  I name you as regent and grant you rulership of Montelia until a parliament, chosen by the people, has been formed."  He tapped George on the head with the flat of the blade before handing it back to Sir Reginald.

"Thank you, King Erik!" George shouted victoriously.

"Sheriff of Glenn Bannard," the orc corrected him. Erik thanked us, said goodbye, turned down an escort and went home.

Well, that is how the Kingdom of Montelia was overturned and shaken, and the Republic of Montelia fell out, as a nut that would grow into a mighty tree falls from a planter's sack.  Eventually, t'is also how I and Sir Reginald lost our privileged positions, although not our wealth.  I purchased my first merchant ship and moved here, to become wealthier still.  George saw to it that Lady Kimberly received a trial by jury before her head was parted from her shoulders, and she was found innocent of poisoning the king but guilty of conspiracy to murder the heir.  Galio would have been tried as well, had the church not intervened.  He admitted guilt in return for his life, which he was to live elsewhere.  Regent George also negotiated with King Hershel.  In return for peace, forgiveness, and gold, King Hershel allowed Montelia to annex Glenn Bannard.

Erik served as Sheriff for the rest of his days. I've heard it said that he was asked why he chose that humble position over being a king and replied "No one would bother to poison a sheriff."



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