Jhaellyn’s Bargain

by Usagi Anami (兎あなみ)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/55186.html)

(Takes place in the same world as “The Heart Eater’s Children”)

Amirel should have known not to try sneaking into the orc encampment.

An elf, Amirel was naturally agile and stealthy. The orcs were chatting excitedly from the rush of combat, their stolen goods noisy as they marched. His eyes adjusted easily in starlight, but the treetops obscured his vision as he stalked his foes.

He should have remembered orcs saw better in the dark than his race. He should have realized they would spot him: it was the one in the front with the missing eye who pointed at him and shouted. He should have known it wouldn’t work.

He should have known — but he didn’t care because among the stolen food, bows, swords, clothing, and jewelry was his sister Faira. Her long blonde hair trailed down her captor’s back as she was carried across an orc’s shoulder like a hunting trophy.

One orc grunted and hurled a javelin at him. It quivered when it buried itself in a tree. The second grazed his shoulder. The short, deep cut stung and soaked his sleeve with blood. Amirel unleashed an arrow into the shoulder of the one-eyed orc. It growled something Amirel didn’t understand. The others, nine in all, dropped their spoils and advanced on him.

The sight of his sister’s unconscious body dumped on the ground sharpened his focus. Another arrow flew and found its home in an orc’s throat. The orc dropped his axe and clutched at the arrow, too stupid and panicked to realize he was already dead. Amirel dashed behind another tree. It hurt to move; his calves ached from hours of squatting and stalking.

He waited from them to charge, the arrow shaft taut against his bowstring. His throat tightened. Sweat made his skin itch and his tunic stick to his back. His third arrow hit and left a bloody gash where an ear should have been, but he knew he was finished.

Amirel had been lucky. He had been close to a tree at the moment the first orc had charged from the forest at the edge of the elf hamlet, axe high and glinting in the sun. Scrambling up the branches like a panicked cat probably saved his life. He’d watched as his father’s leg was broken and his friend Mysal lost three fingers. Their priest of Jhaellyn killed two before taking an axe to the skull. Without his divine magic, their wounds could only be healed by time and mundane means.

And Faira was gone.

He’d been told the stories of orc brutality and what they did to women as soon as he was old enough to understand such things. It was known that Jhaellyn, the Father of Elves, prevented children from being born of such a perverse union. But that was the limit of their god’s intervention.

“Haven’t we suffered enough?” his mother had screamed at him as she put her husband’s leg in a splint. Her eyes were red and watery. “Do I have to lose another child?”

He had no reply to his mother’s sadness or his father’s grim silence. Nor to his friends burying the dead or tending to the injured.

Amirel had to save his sister himself, without the help of his parents or divine patron.

He had to go alone; he had to compromise his stealth to keep up with the raiders. He had to be reckless and stupid and think that loving his sister would be enough to save her. Tears blurred his vision and a thin trail of mucus ran down his lip. He was going to get himself and his sister killed. It would be worse than if he had done nothing at all.

Then a story his sister had told him ran through his mind.

His bow clattered and his longsword rattled in its sheath as he flung them to the ground. It took all his strength to raise his hands above his head, fingers stretched out wide to show he held no weapons. It hurt to breathe and his tears were cold against his cheek.

“I invoke Jhaellyn’s bargain!” he shouted. Their advance halted and stunned silence was his only reply. It occurred to him that they didn’t understand Elven any better than he understood Orc. The guttural tongue of his enemies hurt his throat when he tried to speak the smattering that he knew.

I…

The one-eyed orc cut Amirel off as he tried to remember the word for “invoke” in their language.

“I understand ye.” The orc spoke Elven roughly, from the back of his throat.

He barked several orders and a few men stepped back and picked up his sister, shaking her awake. One splashed water from a skin on her face, soaking her hair and shirt.

The beauty of elves is the greatest of the mortal races. Even by the standards of his race, Amirel knew Faira was beautiful. Her cheekbones were sharp, her nose thin, her upper lip shaped like the curve of an archer’s bow.

Amirel trembled and fell to his knees. His hands were pulled down into the small of his back, forcing him forward. His long braid was pulled over his shoulder while his hands were bound together with rope. The coarse binding chafed his wrists.

Faira’s eyes opened. She started and backed away from the orc in front of her, eyes wide. She screamed when she saw her brother. One orc raised his arm to quiet her, but it fell limp at a glare from the one-eyed orc. She was not restrained from running to him, embracing him. She crushed him in her thin arms.

He was surrounded by her golden hair and the salty smell of her tears.

“No, no, no, not you too,” she said, heaving on his shoulder.

“Sister, it’s all right. It’s all for the best.”

He smiled, but his lower lip trembled. The one-eyed orc hovered behind Faira and hesitantly placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Elf woman, ye are free to go.”

“Amirel…you didn’t…”

Jhaellyn so loved his dark-skinned consort Faerith that he composed twenty-four verses on the ineffable beauty of the nape of her neck. When Faerith was captured by Gaaresh the Orc-Father, Jhaellyn hurried to his enemy’s home. When Gaaresh refused to let him inside or face him in combat, Jhaellyn tried to batter down his door or coax it open with his magic. But Gaaresh had enchanted his home with his own blood, and the door had the orc god’s own strength and stubborn nature.

Jhaellyn wept as he heard Faerith pleading to be by her love’s side. He searched within himself, trying out every skill and spell, every threat and taunt. But no matter what he did, Gaaresh could not be goaded or intimidated from behind the safety of his own door.

Jhaellyn retreated into the forest to cool his frantic mind and tormented heart. As he contemplated how to free his love, a deep darkness passed over him. He knew a magic that would free her. Resigned and heavy-hearted, he returned to his foe’s home.

“Bother me no more, elf. I’ll have none of ye tricks!”

Drawing on all of his courage, he invoked a spell he could not undo.

“This is no trick, Gaaresh. It is a bargain.

“Listen to me. We are brothers, born fighting from the first moment of the world. But we are brothers still. Free Faerith and you will have me as your slave for twenty years and a day.

“I will do you bidding in all things, even if it ends my life. If you wish to cut my head off with your blood-drinking axe, I will lay my head on the block for you. I will swear this to you, if you let my Faerith go and promise you will never meddle in her affairs again.”

Nothing came from behind the other side of the door for a long time. Finally Gaaresh spoke.

“I have ye word on this, Jhaellyn?”

“Yes, you have my word.”

“Then ye have mine and we have a bargain.”

At that the pact was sealed by Jhaellyn’s magic. Because he agreed to Jhaellyn’s terms, Gaaresh could not cheat him, no matter how he desired to. Nor could Jhaellyn try to escape or rebel against Gaaresh’s commands, no matter how he wanted to. Such was the power of his word.

The door opened and Faerith and Gaaresh stepped out. Jhaellyn groveled before his new master.

“I have.” It hurt to see her eyes, and he looked away. “Please go back”

She flinched and wrapped her arms tighter around her brother. The one-eyed orc folded his arms and coughed.

“Woman, ye do not have choice. The bargain has been invoked and the gods will make us all suffer if ye do not return to yer village.”

Faira nodded slowly, her eyes unreadable. She kissed her brother’s forehead and gave him one last lingering embrace. She took forever to let him go, hands dragging along his arms and her fingertips pressed against his.

“Farewell.”

She kissed his lips lightly, spun around and ran. Even the orcs were strangely solemn as they watched her disappear among the trees. He heard her snapping twigs and kicking rocks long after he lost sight of her hair trailing behind her.

The dead orc lay where it fell, on his belly and his head twisted sideways. They turned their fallen comrade over, pulled the arrow from his throat, and closed his eyes. The butts of their axes thudded on the ground as they chanted. Amirel made out “Gaaresh”, “warrior”, and “battle”.

When the chanting died down, the one-eyed orc hovered in his vision. His eyelid was intact, sunken in where his eye should have been. The arrow was still embedded in his shoulder and he reached up and yanked it out without so much as raising an eyebrow. He cleared his throat and squeezed one hand together until the knuckles were white.

“Well, lad, I hope it was worth it.”

His fist came down. The force of it felt like Amirel’s face was being crushed into his skull. Warm blood sprayed over his mouth and down his chin.

Faira had told Amirel that any elf could make the same deal with an orc, and Gaaresh himself would punish any orc would did not honor it.

In the story, Gaaresh had so hated his foe that simply cutting off Jhaellyn’s head with his blood-drinking axe could never sate him. He had set it upon himself make every moment of his enslavement a torment.

Jhaellyn was made to wear a dress and keep his hair unbraided like a woman. He was given a new name, Aarast, which means worthless in Orc. He skinned and cleaned Gaaresh’s kills, cooked his food, kept his house immaculately clean and tended to Gaaresh’s pets, wives, and children. He suffered every slight and insult imaginable and thanked his master for it.

Only the thought of his dark, beautiful Faerith (who plotted to become the ruler of the elves during his absence, but that is another story) kept his heart and spirit from breaking.

It was all too possible that these orcs lacked their god’s taste for delayed gratification. The bargain said they could do what they wanted to him, as long as his sister was unharmed. They would probably think nothing of gutting him or at least chopping one or two limbs off. Whenever panic threatened to overwhelm him, he thought of the same fate awaiting his sister. All that mattered was that she was safe.

They punched and kicked him with more abandon than they would show a foe in a real battle — everyone knew that at heart orcs were all cowards. His skin purpled and throbbed with agonizing tenderness. The cool air stung, and even breathing hurt. His muscles swelled, the pain making his body feel bigger, stretched out. A heavy boot pushed against his shoulder and shoved him on his stomach.

Even as his body radiated pain, he noticed that no weapons were used beyond fist or foot. As far as he could tell, none of his bones had been broken. He ran his tongue along his teeth. None were missing or loose. The sharp weight on the boot on his shoulder jostled his thoughts. He bit his lip to keep from whimpering before he realized it was split.

Blood swam in the back of his throat. The bruise forming on his face made his eye feel like it was being eased out of its socket. He shut his good eye and imagined himself from without, as an observer might. The orc’s tusked mouths were joyless, their faces as stern and hungry as wolves. His attacker’s arms were knotted with muscle, their clothes simple, and their armor crude toughened boarskin.

Whatever they did with his body, his mind was free to wander. It was someone else, some other elf whose nose was broken. Someone else’s skin was spotted with bruises; someone else was coughing up blood on the forest floor. It wasn’t his braid that was being yanked, like an inept attempt at scalping. His breeches weren’t being yanked down, or his hips pulled up.

He jerked his head up to keep his hair from being ripped out. A thumb was popped into his mouth and forced his jaw down. What he saw when he opened his unhurt eye snapped him back to his body. The cock in front of him was uncut, the tip poking out like a snail’s head. The smell of unwashed skin made him gag.

His teeth ground into the thumb when he tried to close his mouth. His arms were still tied behind his back, but he found himself trying to wriggle out of the bounds. Calloused hands pushed his knees apart and spread him open. A cock pressed against his thigh. Until now no matter no much he hurt he had never begged for mercy. These orcs owned him now. He was determined to obey without hesitation or question for his sister’s safety and his honor as an elf. But the story of Jhaellyn’s bargain never mentioned anything like this.

“No! Don’t, I can’t, I’ve never…”

The cock was shoved into his open mouth. It tasted of dirt and sweat, and when he gagged it was only pushed in harder. Broken fingernails combed through his hair, gripping the back of his head and bobbing his head on the orc’s member.

Amirel forced his mind to drift, find an image to mediate on. He was hunting in the forest, watching the sunlight filter through the trees. A small stream gurgled nearby. Insects were buzzing, a green-blue dragonfly weaving in the air. A brown rabbit dashed behind the bushes. Clusters of purple woodbine grew between the roots of trees.

He felt the quiver on his back and the bow his father had made for him. He wore his lucky green tunic. On his belt he had a heavy bladed hunting knife. A small wooden icon of Feyran the Hunter dangled from his neck…

The orc behind him shoved in. Amirel resisted on reflex, the muscles tightening to keep him out. The orc forced past, stretching him until his skin broke and bleed. The cock in his mouth squirted and filled his mouth with come that tasted of salt and bile. The orc pulled out and his cock twitched, spraying his face.

Amirel sobbed, and another cock entered his mouth. Fingernails dug into his thigh as the orc riding him came. When he pulled out Amirel felt his seed and blood oozing out. In front of him he saw other orcs naked from the waist down.

The one-eyed orc alone remained dressed. He sat sitting cross legged, arms folded, several feet from the others. It seemed to Amirel he was looking away. A second orc replaced the first inside of him in a matter of seconds.

He remembered the rest of the evening as different cocks in his mouth or inside him. He stopped struggling by focusing on the details. He noted the different colors and sizes, the way it curved this way or that, how their foreskin bunched up, the way their testicles hung, the degree of bitterness in their seed. Anything but what was happening to him.

At the end of the night Amirel thought of nothing at all. Disgust and shame were gone. Even gratitude that his sister was safe was beyond him. Much of their spent seed was still inside him and on his face and hair but he didn’t bother to wipe it off. He lay perfectly still, knees drawn up to his chest, waiting for sleep to claim him.

He woke up several miles from the forest. He’d been dressed and someone was carrying him over their shoulder. The ground below him bobbed up and down. It was day and the sky was clear and pure. He vomited.

After being slapped (for vomiting on the orc’s clothes and armor, he assumed) their journey continued. A large fly hummed in his ear and he noticed a smell worse than orc invading his senses. A small cloud of flies hovered over the one-eyed orc. He was carrying the orc Amirel had killed.

He vomited again and fell unconscious.

He woke up cold and on the ground. He saw nothing but heard breathing. As he waited darkness fell away in layers. In the edges of his vision he saw a shape squatting over him. Two eyes glowed green, pupils slit like those of a lynx. The shape grabbed the edge of his tunic and slowly eased it up.

“Please don’t,” he whispered, pulling his knees together.

Amirel grabbed the shape’s wrist but made no attempt to restrain it. He felt bushy hair under his fingers.

“Sit up, lad.” It was the one-eyed orc.

After a moment he added, “I don’t intend to hurt ye.”

It took him several minutes to sit up but he obeyed. He arms hurt when he raised them over his head as the orc pulled off his tunic. The cool air felt sweet against his sore skin. Amirel whimpered when he felt his breeches pulled down.

“I won’t hurt ye.”

He stiffened but kept quiet as the orc finished undressing him. The orc’s leathery fingers touched his swollen eye. After a familiar tingling sensation, his eye slowly opened.

“You’re a priest?”

“Aye.”

Where the orc touched Amirel he took the edge off his pain. His lip mended and his bruises softened, but the orc did not completely heal him. He flinched when he felt fingers against his entrance.

“Relax.”

Two fingers worked inside of him over the next five minutes. When they were completely inside the pin-and-needles of healing began working there as well. His fingers slid out and Amirel heard him washing his hands. Amirel surprised himself by whispering, “Thank you.”

If the orc heard him, he gave no sign.

“Ye are lucky to be alive and whole. I don’t have enough magic after healing me men to fix broken bones and the like. The last thing we need is a crippled slave.

“They wanted to kill ye for ruining their quarry and to avenge Baerash. They would have regretted it later, since few things are better for a tribe than a willin’ slave. It was the least I could let them do. ‘Blood lust and lust run from the same river’, as we say.

“Ye’ll be instructed on yer duties in the evenin’. Sleep till then.”

He did.

As the sun was going down an elderly orc woman entered the tent. The one-eyed orc was asleep a few feet away from him on a bearskin, snoring softly. She spoke Elven in broken, halting tones, but well enough for him to understand he was to cook the chieftain’s breakfast first thing in the evening.

“Ye cook?”

Amirel nodded. “Anything in peculiar I should make?”

The woman shrugged and handled him a leather bag. Inside were herbs, spices, and boar meat, all stolen from his village. The one-eyed orc woke up just as the boar meat stew was bubbling.

When the orc stretched his shoulders popped, muscles rippling under his green skin. He was dressed only in a breechcloth, scars ranging from dark green to pink covering his body. His chest and arms were striped with straight lines of white scar tissue. A triangle of glossy hair branded his chest, and a thick patch of hair trailed down from his navel to his crotch. He scratched his belly as he muttered to himself and yawned.

“Good evenin’.”

“Good morn… evening. Your food isn’t quite done yet.” Amirel’s tongue felt thick. “Master.”

The one-eyed orc shrugged and sat up. He combed out his long greasy hair with his fingers and rubbed a glob of mucus out of his good eye. His eye held a sharp intelligence that did nothing to counteract his bestial countenance — the effect was like seeing the eye of a man in a pig’s head.

“I am Haurk, chieftain of the Broken Tusk tribe. Ye can call me what ye will, as long as ye do as I say.”

Amirel nodded. When the stew was finished, Haurk poured a bowl for both of them. They sat and ate in silence. Haurk stood up and gestured for Amirel to follow him. Amirel’s legs ached a little with every step. A hundred few away a small group of logs stood upright, buried in the ground. Much of their bark was gone, and they were covered in shallow cuts and deep gashes. “This is where we practice our javelin throwin’. I expect ye to practice yer archery here as well. Yer’ll be given supplies to replace any arrows ruined durin’ practice.”

“Why?”

So much for obeying without question. He bit his tongue and awaited a sharp rebuttal. Haurk cleared his throat and answered him calmly.

“I lost three men in that raid, one thanks to yer aim. Broken Tusk isn’t the biggest tribe and need all the help we can get.”

Haurk went back into the test and returned Amirel’s quiver and bow to him.

“Back in me tent in two hours.”

Amirel nodded and notched his bow and aimed for the furthest log, almost two hundred feet away. The sky was purple and red and a few stars had begun to appear. A red dot at the top of the log stood as target. His arms were still sore from his beating and the arrow missed by a few inches. After half a quiver he was able to hit the target without difficulty. When he used up his quiver and went to retrieve his arrows, he realized the target had been made with dried blood.

A pack of orc children stood by as bored observers. One snarled something and threw a rock at his head. The others joined in; Amirel dropped his bow and stood still while they pelted him. They lost interest in a less than a minute and wandered off to find something else to do. He continued his practice until the moon rose.

Haurk was not a demanding master. Amirel slept on a comfortable but thin blanket in Haurk’s tent while Haurk slept on his bearskin. He was allowed to bathe in the river every few days. Sleeping during the day and being awake during the night was disorienting at first. Amirel would wake up several times during the day and the disrupted sleep wore him out. It took months for his natural rhythms to adapt, for his mind to slip into restfulness as he watched the sun rise.

Haurk began teaching him the basics of the orc language. Elven was a complex and nuanced language, and it made learning the crude orc tongue that much easier.

He cooked, made himself arrows, practiced with his bow, kept Haurk’s axe, spears, javelins, and armor clean. He washed the tribe’s clothes, but with the help of the orc’s wives and sisters. It became apparent the help he got from the women came not from altruism but fear that he wouldn’t do the job right.

He was busy enough during the night to pretend they had only beaten him and taken him captive. Besides Haurk, the orcs mostly ignored him. Any attention they paid him were slurs he was just beginning to understand or an occasional rock at his temple. But during the day his dreams were of bitter poison forced down his throat, of blood, of hands holding him in place.

Quiet and stoic during the night, Haurk would often fall into a talkative mood as dawn approached. A bit of mead or wine didn’t hurt things, either.

“Gaaresh loved Faerith, ye know”

“What? The stories always said he just wanted her-”

“That’s yer story, elf. Orcs have stories too. Shut up and listen to mine.

“Anyways, Gaaresh fell madly in love with the dark beauty of Faerith, even if she was an elf and the hated Jhaellyn’s lover. So he killed a dozen great beasts, dragons and gigantic bears and the like and presented them to her like ye elves would flowers. She was impressed with his battle prowess and swooned at his strong body and agreed to be his consort.

“They went down to his house to make love, but the moment Jhaellyn began pounding at the door Faerith starting crying and screaming as if Gaaresh had captured her. He couldn’t open to the door to let her out, since Jhaellyn would rush in and fight him. So he heard Jhaellyn threatening him on one side, and the deceitful woman howling at him at one side.

“‘Damn ye, heartless woman, why have ye done this to me? Have I not treated ye well? Have I not loved ye?’ Gaaresh asked her.

“‘I do not love you any more than I could love a boar! I have done this because Jhaellyn will be your slave for twenty years and a day to win my freedom. I will leave and become the Queen of Elves and no longer live in his shadow. When he returns I will have raised up a great army and will destroy him if he does not submit to me.’

“So, as much as Gaaresh loved Faerith (in spite of her betrayal), he hated Jhaellyn more and relished the thought of owning the Father of Elves. So he went along with the deception and accepted Jhaellyn’s offer when the time came.

“And that is why the dark elves and the orcs are bitter enemies, in spite of their shared hatred of light elves.”

That night Amirel was relieved to dream of nothing at all.

“Broken Tusk and yer village are at a standstill now,” Haurk explained to him one night before they went to bed.

He spoke to him in Orc now. Amirel had become fluent within six months.

“Why?”

“We cannot attack yer village since we run a great risk of harming yer sister. Yer village won’t attack us now since we can kill ye at will.”

“So we are at peace.”

“I wouldn’t call it that, exactly. We just aren’t killin’ each other. And in less than twenty years yer village becomes free to attack us at will, until the day yer sister dies.”

“But we wouldn’t attack you unprovoked!”

Haurk stared at him for a long time before rolling over and going to sleep.

Raids were a regular part of life. A goblin band attacked Broken Tusk two months after the bargain had been invoked; they vanished like lightning after Haurk’s javelin tore through their shaman’s head. They attacked and retreated so quickly that Amirel did not get the chance to unleash a single arrow.

The goblins were numerous, small, and quick, appearing and disappearing like flies. They were annoying but harmless: the most damage they did over their eight attacks that year was making off with food. While Amirel was able to wound some and scare them off, he never killed one. It wasn’t because he had qualms about taking lives, but because they rarely stayed still long enough for Amirel to take proper aim.

On the anniversary of Amirel’s enslavement, they were attacked by three trolls from the High Grey Claw tribe on the other side of the mountain. The smallest of them was eight feet tall. They were naked except for the sickly green hair draped over their bodies. They carried no weapons, simply tearing into their foes with their massive clawed hands.

The warriors of Broken Tusk avoided a melee with the trolls, unleashing a volley of javelins from a distance. The trolls barely slowed in their advance despite their injuries, which gave them the appearance of massive pincushions. One lunged and grabbed the head of an orc warrior, dangling him by his hair.

Amirel’s arrow hit the middle of the troll’s grappling hand just as the suspended orc’s ax swung up at the troll’s head. The jolt of the arrow was just enough for troll’s grip to falter. The orc’s ax cut across the troll’s stomach, his foe’s insides spilled out on top of him as he fell.

The remaining trolls charged, seizing two warriors like dolls. The other warriors quickly flanked, since the trolls couldn’t grapple one and fight the others at the same time. One troll leaned over and bit into an orc’s shoulder, tearing out flesh. Haurk’s axe swung low, cutting off the troll’s leg at the knee. The one-legged troll toppled over like a tree. The orc in his hands went flying overhead.

The fallen troll snatched at Haurk, pulling him into a bear hug. Haurk’s limbs jerked as the circle of the troll’s thick arms shrank tighter and tighter. Even from a distance Amirel heard Haurk’s back cracking. The other warriors were distracted with the last and biggest troll, trying to keep him from entering the village and endangering their women and children.

Amirel drew his bow and froze, watching Haurk struggle in the giant’s embrace. If he failed to save their chieftain, would he be at fault? Would the contract between his village and their tribe be broken? He doubted it. Haurk told Amirel to fight alongside them — he mentioned nothing about protecting him personally.

Haurk wasn’t exactly kind, but he wasn’t cruel. And in some rare moments he was genuinely friendly, telling Amirel an orc fable or complimenting his cooking (even if it was women’s work). Amirel didn’t want to see what kind of chieftain would replace him and how he would treat his new property.

Disgusted at his own thoughts, Amirel fired. An arrow buried into the side of the troll’s head. His massive arms went slack, the great hands slowly unfolding in the dirt. The other troll’s roar echoed nearby, followed by the orcs’ cheering.

Amirel had watched the post-combat ritual before, although he had never participated. After the warriors received healing from Haurk (after he had healed himself), a portion of the trolls’ bodies were burned. The rest was saved for meat, skin, and bones.

The ash was gathered in big wooden buckets. Then all the warriors who had a kill gathered in front of the bonfire on which the bodies had been burned. Some squabbling broke out over which orc dealt the death blow to the last troll. Haurk decided it was a group kill, granting each warrior a lesser honor and leaving them unsatisfied.

The orcs then turned stared at Amirel.

“What?” he asked in Orc.

“Ye too, elf,” one called out.

“Ye finally got a kill in with those flimsy arrows, huh? Must be a miracle!” Another added.

They chuckled at that. Amirel wondered if they truly forgot he killed their tribesman or deliberately ignored it. They grabbed his wrists and pulled him into the circle around the bonfire. The smell of burnt flesh stung his eyes. Hesitantly Amirel peeled off his shirt as the others had done.

Haurk stood in front of the warrior who had killed the first troll. Holding out a heavy, curved blade, Haurk made a horizontal slash on the orc’s chest that went from shoulder to shoulder. The length indicated the honor of a kill done alone. Across was for a close combat kill, and on the chest was for killing a troll or giant.

Then he grabbed a handful of ash from the bucket, rubbing it deep inside the cut. The ash clotted the bleeding and ensured a scar would form. Haurk repeated this with the others, the cuts a quarter of the first one’s length. Grumbling could be heard over the sound of the roaring fire. Amirel’s skin glowed with sweat as he waited for Haurk to approach.

Haurk paused before cutting, looking at Amirel with an expression that could be amusement or pride. Amirel’s muscles twitched and his jaw tightened when he saw the blade flash. The knife went from his right collarbone to the start of his left nipple in one swift movement. Diagonal cuts signified killing at a distance.

Amirel didn’t flinch, simply let the pain enter and pass through him. Haurk’s touch was surprisingly delicate as he worked ash into the wound, as if Amirel was a sculpture he was creating. His hands lingered for just a moment on Amirel’s skin, fingers outlining the scar to be. Then Haurk withdrew and the ritual was over.

The warriors crowded around Amirel, congratulating him. Not knowing what to say, he commented on how many impressive scars they had as well and was rewarded with tusked grins.

“Yer a man now, we’ll have to find ye a nice wife.”

“Could ye take mine?”

An empty bucket flew and connected with the back of the last speaker’s head. Laughter echoed. They had him sit down with them, sharing wine they had traded with neighboring human barbarians. Their songs of valor and battle passed through Amirel’s ears like wind, and he drank only enough wine to wet his throat. The attention they paid Amirel was brief enough. A little more wine, and they stopped trying to get him to sing one of their many songs about their tribe killing elves like wolves killing deer.

Amirel listened as they told stories of the bloodthirsty aarasti, the spirits of orc men who did not die in battle. Cursed to wander the earth until the last day, they sought to reclaim their honor by fighting and slaying anything or anyone they encountered. No matter how many they battles they waged as a spirit, they could never join Gaaresh’s side in the Eternal Battlefields of Nargus.

Haurk’s legs shook as he stood to return to his tent. Seeing it as a good excuse to get away from his new “friends,” Amirel stood up and took Haurk’s arm.

“I’m all right, elf,” Haurk protested, but let Amirel steer him. His movements were jerky but his voice lacked any drunken slurring.

“I can hold my wine better than ye.”

“I’m sure you can,” Amirel said, as if reassuring a child.

They made their way to the tent. Amirel left the flap partially open to let some moonlight filter in. Haurk sat down, knees drawn up to his chest. Amirel handed Haurk a water skin and he drank slowly, wiping his mouth with his hand. They sat side by side in the semidarkness.

“Yer a man now, aye?” Haurk’s eye locked on him. His gaze seemed to flicker between thoughtfulness and a drunken gaze.

Amirel swallowed and closed his eyes, keeping his voice calm. “I’ve seen nineteen summers, and I’ve been a man for five.”

“Ye haven’t had any scars till now.” Haurk’s finger pointed at him, his hand shaking. “I’ve seen ye. Ye haven’t felt real pain and carried it with ye, till now. Ye can’t place much trust in anyone, elf or man or orc, that doesn’t have any scars…”

Haurk reached over, his rough hands feeling Amirel’s shoulder. His touch was casual, even as his arm went around Amirel’s waist. The smell of dried blood and ash clung to them. For reasons Amirel did not understand, this was not discomforting.

“Ye have felt real pain before this, I know, I’m sorry. They didn’t know what they were doing. Yer brave, I could never just give myself to my enemy… I…”

Amirel has always thought tusks would make kissing difficult, but Haurk’s lips found his without any impediment. His mouth was dry and tasted of smoke. Amirel didn’t kiss back, too startled to react. Something in Amirel’s stomach stirred, and his skin grew warm.

“Yer amazing,” Haurk whispered and squeezed Amirel’s thigh.

Haurk grasped Amire’s cock through his breeches with they same carefulness he had touched his wound, finger by finger. Both were surprised to find Amirel already hardening. Using only his fingertips he pulled Amirel’s member free, shaping it into stiffness with soft strokes.

Haurk’s fingers alternated from running along the veins in the shaft and squeezing the head, gentle, always moving. Amirel felt paralyzed, this new pleasure vibrating from his core throughout his body. As he approached orgasm, Haurk froze. Amirel sighed, watching his cock throb in Haurk’s hand.

“Do ye want this?”

The words dragged Amirel back to earth and punched him in the stomach. For a moment they had been two men, alone and hungry. Now Amirel was an elf slave, Haurk his orc owner.

“That doesn’t matter, does it?” Amirel hissed, his erection flagging, ruined.

He pulled his breeches up and tied them closed. Haurk drew back, his face confused and dark.

“I don’t want that- I don’t want ye to think ye have to…”

Amirel’s smile dripped poison. He held his hands out, palms up in a mock gesture of supplication.

“Master, what do you want me to want?”

He was knocked flat by Haurk’s fist. The left side of his face stung, but Amirel was still smiling. A giggle erupted from him, like hiccups. He quivered with laughter, rolling on the ground.

“You beat me, you let your men force themselves on me!” Amirel covered his face, tears running down his hand.

“And then… and then these men expect me to be their brothers, and you… you expect me to want you?”

His laugher reached a horrid, howling pitch, like a demon’s cackle. Haurk eye was wet and red and he sank into his bearskin, his back to Amirel.

Amirel discovered there were different ways to be cruel. The cruelty of orcs was legendary; unprovoked murder, torture, pillage, and rape. That brutally was far beyond him. But he found himself mastering the lesser cruelties.

After that night Amirel abandoned the little kindnesses and pleasantries he had observed with Haurk. He did not say hello, good evening, thank you, goodbye. He rose and attended to his duties without so much as a look at Haurk. He ignored Haurk’s greetings, compliments, and gratitude for a job well done.

When he spoke he was rigidly formal and made Haurk flinch whenever he called him “Master”. He continued to perform every task given to him quickly and efficiently, while radiating the resentment of a child at his chores. His chest itched fiercely as his flesh knit itself together, but he resisted the urge to scratch.

The other orcs’ attitude remained friendly after the night Amirel was scarred. No one, not even the children, threw things at him anymore. They only called him names in jest, and chatted freely with him about past battles or their wives when his tasks were over. He would nod to the others where he was supposed to, and listened quietly while Haurk fumed.

“Why won’t ye talk to me?” Haurk asked him after the first week.

“Master, what do you want me to say?”

Haurk said nothing and sulked off. Haurk owned Amirel. He could make him do anything he wanted except be his friend. Amirel found a perverse pleasure in Haurk’s discomfort and unwillingness to control him. That was its own kind of freedom, and the only kind he could access.

Whatever feelings Amirel had when he watched Haurk spar didn’t matter. It was nothing more than a distraction to watch the muscles in Haurk’s chest and stomach tremble, the thoughtfulness and grace in his movements that marked him as different from the men he led. Amirel had surrendered everything else; he would not give his heart to an enemy.

Amirel dreamt of Haurk’s hands touching him again. They were a riddle, coarse with calluses, meticulous and tender as an artist’s.

Resentment let a new darkness breed in the back of his brain. Amirel thought in ways he never thought possible. He was ashamed at first, and told himself he was thinking like a dark elf. But the longer he toyed with the idea the more familiar it became. He wondered why he had never thought of it before. It was so obvious.

Amirel watched Haurk breathe, noting the point where his chest began to rise and fall with the slower rhythms of sleep. With his useless eyelid and scar pocked skin, Haurk would never be beautiful. But Amirel had to admit that he was at least cute when he slept. When Haurk snorted softly and licked one of his tusks Amirel couldn’t help but smile.

He slowly crawled over to Haurk’s side. His hands outlined Haurk’s face without touching him, going over the flat end of his jaw, the curves of his tusks, and the black mass of his hair. Haurk didn’t stir when he touched his thick shoulders, going along his collarbone, now touching his dark green nipples.

Haurk’s breath quickened as Amirel’s hand went down his taut stomach, pulling back his breechcloth. Haurk woke up then, eye wide and startled. Amirel cupped his cock and squeezed, watching the foreskin bulge. He felt Haurk thickening in his grip, stretching out.

He was the only warrior in the tribe Amirel hadn’t seen naked, and the sight of his erect cock surprised him. While he was no longer than the others, he was thick, like he had small tree growing between his legs. Haurk eye snapped open. He started to speak, but Amirel put a finger to his lips.

Amirel pulled the foreskin back and watched his cock weep clear fluid. It pulsed in his hand, shivering with every heartbeat. He played with the cock with the same speed and care as Haurk had done to him, pulling the foreskin up over the head and dragging it down.

Amirel felt his own passions stirring as he watched Haurk buck weakly in his hand. He was supposed to be a slave, and yet this man gave him power where he should have none. In the privacy of Huark’s tent, he was free.

“Do you want this?” Amirel asked, his hand never leaving Haurk’s cock.

“Yes.” Haurk’s good eyelid was fluttering, nervous.

“Then I want to see my family.”

“Ye know I can’t do that.”

“Then I can’t do this.” He let go of Haurk’s cock and let his hand rest on his stomach.

“How can ye expect me to go against the bargain?” he growled and sat up.

Amirel pushed Haurk on his back. He undid his breeches, rubbing his hardness against Haurk’s. “It’s not against the deal if my master lets me visit them.” He leaned forward and nibbled on Haurk’s ear. “Is it?”

Haurk groaned as Amirel licked up his neck. He did so slowly, savoring the salt of Haurk’s skin.

“No, I don’t think it would be…”

Using one hand to brace himself he lifted himself onto Haurk. Amirel’s hand reached down, placing his thumb on his own cock and using his fingertips on Haurk’s to keep them together. Haurk quickly followed suit, gray-green and white hands mirroring each other. They bucked softly, gaining speed as they slid against and past one another. Feeling Haurk’s cock shiver and spend against Amirel’s hastened his own climax.

Haurk’s stomach was covered in their spends. Amirel dropped down, lapping it off his fuzzy stomach. He could taste his own come and Haurk’s, the separate salt and bitterness together in his mouth. When they kissed Amirel slipped it into Haurk’s mouth, and they shared the taste of each other’s seed. They passed it from mouth to mouth until it became impossible to tell one from the other.

Amirel kept himself hidden and watched Faira from a distance for some time. She now wore the blue cloak with green trimming of a priestess of Jhaellyn and an engagement bracelet. Mysal’s hand was whole, and he used it to cup Faira’s face or run his fingers through her hair. Amirel was glad Mysal had finally worked up the courage to tell her how it felt, and happier still than she had responded in kind.

He watched his mother weave and his father practice his swordplay. He watched older elves tell stories and younger elves playing Jhaellyn and Gaaresh, playing out their eternal struggle. He wondered how much he would have in common with them at the end of his service. By then he would have spent more time among the orcs than the elf village he was raised in, born in.

He shook his head. Now was not the time to brood. He only had one day to visit them, and he wouldn’t waste it dwelling on the future. He had three more days this year, one for each season.

He gathered up his resolve, stepped out of the forest and called to his sister.

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