Tuk suddenly pulled sharply on the reins and raised himself up slightly from his seat, frowning, head turning left and right. One of the oxen made a disapproving noise but they both ground to a halt. The orc drover shook the lump of fur and leather on the seat next to him.
“Did you hear that?” he hissed loudly.
Grawit opened one bleary eye and glared at the drover.
“No.” he said grumpily. “I’m asleep. Why are we stopped”
“Stow it,” said Tuk, still alert, scanning the rock walls around him as best he could. He hated this part of the road, where the sun only shone for a short time around noon and the rest of the time was shrouded in gloomy twilight. “I definitely heard something. I think it might be wolves.”
“What’s the commotion?” A third orc appeared at Tuk’s elbow, alert and worried. She shaded her eyes and joined Tuk in looking for danger.
“Tuk heard something,” said Grawit yawning. “Again.”
Rosslin favoured the drover with a suspicious stare. “Again? What was it this time?”
Tuk sounded defensive as he replied. “It was a wolf I’m sure of it. Or someone pretending to be a wolf.”
Rosslin and Grawit exchanged a long suffering glance.
“You shouldn’t have let him go see that mystic before we left Runegrott,” said Rosslin. “He’s been like this for days.”
Grawit shrugged as if to say “what can you do” and sat up properly on the narrow bench, yawning and stretching. Tuk bridled.
“She told me she saw it clear as day.” he said, a little sulkily. “I’d meet a bloody stranger on the road, and that he - uh - he carried something on his back that she could not see and…”
“And in one hand he had chance and in the other fate,” finished Grawit in a sing-song voice, sliding an affectionate arm around the drover’s waist. “You said. A few dozen times. In between complaining that we were being watched, and hearing odd noises, and this is the third time we’ve stopped today. Much longer and salt or not these fish are going to be able to walk all the way to Ironberg by themselves.”
Still, for all the gentle mockery in his voice, with his free hand he pulled a javelin out of the quiver strapped on his side of the wagon and his gaze was not on his husband but on the road ahead. There had been talk of renewed activity by bandits since the orcs had set about revitalising the northern trade routes. Army deserters mostly, along with a few disgruntled Winterfolk who refused to leave Skarsind but also refused to accept the presence of their new neighbours.
“What are we looking for?” asked an unfamiliar voice from Grawit’s side of the wagon. He snapped his head round and could not contain a cry of fear and surprise, his javelin falling from fingers suddenly, inexplicably numb. As Tuk fumbled for his handaxe, Rosslin shouted an oath and tried to roll under the covered wagon. Unfortunately, as Tuk tried to stand and draw at the same time he fumbled, stumbled, stood on his own cloak and nearly fell head first into the arses of the oxen. At the same time, Rosslin mistimed her agile roll and instead managed to smack her head on the underside of the wagon with an echoing thump, and a groan, and then silence.
A great shaggy shape loomed over Grawit - but was it looming though? Afterward Grawit and Tuk could not quite agree on quite how tall the thing had been. They wrangled about it for the rest of the journey often long into the night - Grawit swearing it was as tall as the top of the covered wagon, Tuk disagreeing and claiming it was shorter than he was, and neither of them prepared to agree even on how many eyes it had, never mind what colour they were.
Either way, the great shaggy shape had managed to get within arm’s reach of Grawit and Tuk without arousing the slightest suspicion. It was clearly neither orc nor human, but some unnatural patchwork creature of horns and fur and claws and hooves, its pelt matted with fresh blood. It took a large bite out of something Grawit realised was a wet, bloody heart the size of an ox head and treated the two orcs to a wide, terrifying, gory grin as it leant against the side of the wagon.
Though its voice rasped and growled, its tone was jocular - gleeful even.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” it said taking another bite out of the dripping offal in its other hand. “I just want to be friends.”
And then, in the confusion, as Rosslin pulled herself out from under the wagon, and Agga and Nattak came running up from the other wagon shouting, and Tak tried to get his footing, the beast chuckled. And that dreadful, unnatural sound - even more than the insane, impossibly wide grin - made all the blood in Grawit’s veins turn to icewater, and all the hair on his back stand on end.
Weird shaggy beast! Dismantling mammoths and terrorizing the pass between Skarsind and Hahnmark with cryptic messages and antics! Appearing in the background of blurry home movies where it is clear it is someone in a suit! You can learn all about the Krampus (for a given value of “all about”) and its odd behaviour here → profounddecisions.co.uk/empire-wiki/Goatfoot
The picture is of Harry Morris and was taken by some guy but only I know what his name is.
#itknowsifyouaresleeping, #thebestleatherisfreeleather, #theproblemwithorcflavourtextisthesheernumberofcharactersyouneedtostickintokeepitonbrief, #Ironberg4Lyfe