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Peace Hangs in the Balance (Leidolfr 2)

He never asked the name of the Orc. And the Orc never asked Leidolfr his. The only time they spoke was when they came upon The Orc stronghold Desolation Hold. The weathered Orc turned to go towards the hold and Leidolfr stopped on the road. The sun was just rising, and it had been awhile since they had last met up with any alliance soldiers, Human or Dwarf. “Come. We need sleep,” the Orc said simply.


“No,” Leidolfr responded. The Orc turned to him abruptly. “No go there.”


“There is an Inn,” the Orc said simply.


“I no sleep in… inside,” the young Shu’halo stated hesitantly.


The Orc pointed to the Battlescar, the area of ground which split the Southern Barrens from North to South that had been caused by Deathwing shattering the world as he erupted into freedom, the elementals and lastly a Human fort and a Dwarven Stronghold at different points across the divide. “It is not safe, Tauren. It is time to rest.”


The Orc turned towards the keep again and continued to walk, until he noticed that Leidolfr had continued walking South without him. The Orc turned and jogged a couple of steps with effort and his meaty hand grasped hold of the Tauren’s scarred and tattooed forearm.


Leidolfr grunted, “Boat with bar. We go where land under water.” He points south.


“Listen Tauren,” the Orc keeps his hand on the youngling’s forearm, “too far. What we just did, had us sharp and focused, but I’m spent and need rest. Or we will make mistakes, and we have Quilboar on one side, Dwarves and Humans on the other, and a land that never seems to stop raging all the way to your boat with a bar. Even with your youthful energy, you need sleep.”


Leidolfr listens and takes in the Orc’s words and finally nods in agreement. “I no sleep at Inn. I sleep out here.” He nods towards a few ragged trees just a little bit further down the road. “Keep watch,” he adds simply.


The Orc laughs deeply and tugs on the young one’s arm attempting to lead him towards the entrance gate to the Hold. “When there is a bed, you sleep in a bed.”


But Leidolfr held fast. “No sleep inside.” His brown eyes stare down the Orc as he takes his time to choose the correct words in Orcish. “Bad. Bad for me. I have thoughts when sleep. Not control.”


“Like nightmares?” the Orc guesses. “Kid, we all have nightmares. But the army ain’t letting anyone sleep outside their gates, and they already seen us. Now, I saved your life, you owe me a rest in a bed and then I’ll go South with you.” The Orc can feel the forearm he holds strain and tremble, the youth’s fear through his grip on the forearm and as Leidoflr starts to pull free, the old veteran reaches up and roughly cuffs him across the cheek and then with both hands holds either side of Leidoflr’s head to keep him focused on his next words, his eyes holding the youngling’s eyes. “I don’t know what you fear, but fear will kill you. You need to face it or run like a coward, and you ain’t a coward,” he adds even as the youth starts to speak up and deny the term. The old Orc satisfied when the Tauren says nothing, turns and starts toward the Hold, hearing the hooves crunch on the dried ground following him after only a couple of seconds hesitation.


They get questioned at the gate and almost denied entry, until the Hold’s current Warlord is beckoned forth. The Warlord greeted the veteran Orc with respect but then eyeing Leidolfr, he asks loudly, “Who are you? Have you enlisted, Highmountain?”


The old Orc says quickly, “He is my apprentice. Paid for him in Stonetalon. Strong enough to mine and smelt all hours of the day and night. I’m old now for doing all that work. And smart enough to take him to Thousand Needles where there’s plenty to mine under all that water.” The hold’s commander laughed with the old Orc and led them away from the front gate and towards the Inn. “It’s good to see you!”


“And you, old friend,” the Warlord replied once they were out of earshot. “You look like you’ve been fighting, not mining.”


“Both,” the veteran answered. “Just walked from Taurajo,” the weathered Orc whispered. “We just need some rest. Not here for trouble.”


“I owe you that much,” the Warlord said. “But there’s a big push on rounding up the conscripts that are being sent to Kalimdor from the new allies, and then they don’t report to their duty assignments.”


“You hear that, Tauren?” The Orc glances back over his shoulder as they enter the Inn. “You’re definitely staying under wraps while we are here.” He turns back to his old friend, “Appreciate the tip. You on duty?” When the soldier nods, the old Orc adds, “Then I’ll buy you a round later for your hospitality.” They salute one another and clasp each other’s forearms and without another word, the Warlord takes his leave.


They enter the Inn, and the old Orc crosses quickly to the bar to begin haggling for a room. Leidolfr stands just inside the doorway, letting his eyes adjust from the early morning light to the dark interior. He hears the word breakfast, and as the old Orc moves to a table, he joins him there. Food is quickly brought out, two green skinned Orc females scantily clad, bodies rubbing against both seated males as they set the plates of steaming food on the table. The old Orc leers at the one obviously in the mood for the distraction, but Leidolfr pulls away from the other, clearly not interested. It doesn’t escape the Orc and he tells the second female, he will find time for both after he eats, but to leave them in peace for now.


“If it is money, we made enough from the pockets of those we killed to buy some enjoyment,” the Orc says around his first bite of food. “Trust me, they tire of the same old soldiers they see each day out here.”


The youth starts to eat with gusto, not having realized that it had been a day since he last ate. “You have. Not me,” he replies firmly. “No like.”


The orc grunts. “I did secure us a private room… maybe give me a few before you come in. If it makes you uncomfortable.” Leidolfr nods but keeps eating obviously not wanting to speak about it. The Orc pushes his plate, only half -touched, towards the young Shu’halo and motions to both servers and disappears up the stairs towards the rooms with the female Orcs in tow.


Leidolfr could not have felt more trapped. Once both plates were emptied, he understood well enough that he could not go outside lest he raise questions about his own enlistment, and he had no desire to stay inside. Nightmares! He understood what the Orc meant, but it was not dreams that plagued him, but actual memories of an entire childhood of slavery; nothing good ever happened inside of a hut, and never sleep.


So Leidolfr sat until more Orcs entered to get their breakfast and the Innkeeper told him to give up his seat. Even if the Innkeeper had not, it was getting too crowded and there were soldiers that couldn’t keep their eyes from lingering too long on the young Shu’halo. The Innkeeper sent an Orc child to guide him to the paid for accommodations, and Leidolfr handed a couple of coppers to the boy for his trouble when the youth cracked the door open and looking inside first, beckoned Leidolfr into the room. Two Orcs were passed out on one bed, and the third, one of the females, on what would have been his “bed”. He had never slept in a bed and wasn’t sure he would have anyway. The young Orc scrambled inside and procured a sleeping mat and at a glance from the Shu’halo placed it along the wall, near the door. The full belly on top of everything else caught up to him, and Leidolfr could only hope it would be enough to keep back the nightmares as he fell asleep.


-------------------------------------------------


“On your knees!” the command came with a kick to the back of his knee, so there was no chance to disobey. The youngling found himself on his knees in front of the master’s mistress, blood already dripping from a cut lip when he had refused the command to enter his master’s hut. It wasn’t the first time, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last that he would be expected to please the her, but this time the son was there to, already undoing the front of his trousers and stepping behind the fallen Tauren. The slave slammed his antlered head back hard into the boy’s groin and caught him on target, the boy going down to the ground with a loud scream of pain. The Runecarver, his master, kicked Leidolfr, driving him into the floor of the hut hard and he covered up, rolling into a ball, and wished that he gets beaten unconscious instead of made to pleasure the village whore. His owner grabbed him by the antler with one hand and around the throat with his other and forced his head closer to the Vrykul female seated on the floor before him…


---------------------------------------------------


“Boy,” came the Orc’s coarse voice, his hand shaking the youngling awake. “Stop now!” Leidolfr’s eyes popped open to see the Orc kneeling over him, his own breath ragged and cold sweat running down his own fur and it took several moments to understand where he was, and he had some confusion when his eyes found one of the female Orcs about five feet away, a cut across her cheek, trying to get to her feet. The old Orc growled at the other female to get her friend and get out. “I told you not to go near the boy. You have no respect. Get out!”


Leidolfr watched as the two females departed, the bleeding one glowering and she left a string of cuss words directly at him. “What happen?” he asked still catching his breath and trying to forget the nightmare, the first time he had been raped not by his owner but by his son, which had just led the son to start acting out against the slave whenever he wanted.


The naked Orc grunted, “She tried to undo your breeches, you hit her. We leave now.” He helped Leidolfr to his feet and then began putting on his leathers. “Better if I had hit her, but I didn’t realize fast enough what she was about. She’ll go to the Warlord.”


Leidolfr reflexively reached for his belt pouch to make sure nothing was missing and remembered that he was already missing some of his rune bones and wondered if things could get worse.


The Orc led the way out of the room and the Inn and even as they neared the front gate, An’she high in the sky above them, shouts came from the lookouts in the sentry towers. “Dwarves incoming!”


The old Orc grimaced and pulled both axes from their holders and held up as the Hold came alive. He leaned in close to Leidolfr, “We fight with them, but when it starts to clear, we head South.” Leidolfr nodded his understanding as he briefly passed his fingers over the runes cut into his wrists and then traced over the circular cuttings on his fingers. The runes called to their counterparts in the nearby splintered ley-lines, speed and natural armor, and without hesitation, Leidolfr pulled forth his staff and ran for the front gate joining the rest of the Orcs pouring out of the Hold. The runes on his arm shimmered silver and the bands around his fingers held a darker shade of brown, and he sprinted to overtake the first Orcs leading the charge.


He didn’t know the terrain like the Orcs and Dwarves stationed in this area of the Barrens, but the ley-lines led him through the upheaval, the Battlescar, that separated Alliance from Horde. Leidolfr followed the sigils of speed that corresponded to the cuts in his fur. He felt bullets clip the ground and rocks around him and he burst up out of the ravine ahead of all the Orcs, rising with a large bellowing roar, dwarves rushing towards him to set up a defensive barrier in front of their riflemen. Leidolfr’s height and strength gave him the edge, and his staff knocked two dwarves aside letting him get behind the first line and within seconds he was in distance to charge and stun multiple riflemen. He could hear the battle cries of the Orcs following in his wake while he headbutted a dwarf to the ground and then whirled on two more, sweeping their legs with his staff. Blood pumping, heat of battle, rage still flowing from the burning of Camp Taurajo, he stopped thinking and just swung out again and again, letting his training and anger dictate each attack. His staff twirled and struck one Dwarf in the head knocking him to the ground, then the end smacked another dwarf in the mouth, teeth and blood flying, and hearing footsteps to his side, he turned and blocked the downward swing of an ax, kicked out and heard ribs break against his hoof, and then there were Orcs slashing and hacking to either side of him.


Horns blew from the Dwarven Fortress and the dwarves began to retreat South towards the keep, the few guarding the retreat met a quick end getting off a last couple of shots in the time it took to get to them. Leidolfr started to sprint up the hill, when the old Orc’s hand found his forearm again and pulled him back. “Trap!” the Orc shouted and tugged harder until he felt Leidolfr’s forward motion stop.


Hearing the word, the Shu’halo looked past the dwarves lying at his feet and saw dozens of riflemen forming up and preparing to fire from the higher vantage point down towards them. He heard the explosions from the guns and threw himself and the Orc down to the ground. He felt a burn in his shoulder, a short white-hot slap, and then grasped again at the Orc to push him up and ahead of him, but the body of the Orc lay like a heavy rock beside him. He could see blood welling up from one fatal shot to the head, the Orc eyes wide open unseeing, and then Leidolfr was grabbed by another Orc hand, this one green, and firmly dragging him towards the ravine. He bellowed with rage, but fell back, seeing that the Orcs retreated ahead of them, as well.


As they climbed out of the broken chasm on the Hold’s side, Leidolfr heard shouts of victory from the other side and turned to see the Dwarves cheering and firing their rifles into the air. The Warlord of Desolation Hold stopped, as well, and stood watching as the Dwarves began to tend to their wounded. “I am sorry we lost him,” the commander said. “He was one of our best scouts when he served here.”


Leidolfr looked down at the Orc and said simply, “When An’she sets I will get his body and tend to his burial. I owe him that, I owed him more.”


“He was a soldier of the Horde. He knew the risks when he went after you,” the commander said. “I saw you try to save him and to cover him. I don’t know what brought you together, but for his memory, I will have my field mender look at your shoulder, and let you go on your way. If you come back here, and do not enlist, I will send you back to Orgrimmar for military justice. But I would take you in a fight by my side any day, as he did.” The Warlord turned and led the way to the battle mender’s hut, back inside the hold, and as soon as the bullet was removed, and stitches applied, the commander escorted him back to the gate. Several other soldiers saluted Leidolfr and he nodded stoically in return as he walked out the gates and towards the Battlescar to await a time he could cross safely under cover of darkness.


He did not have long to wait for An’she’s light to dim; but when the light of day darkened, fires rose on the other side of the broken chasm separating him from the Orc’s body. Leidolfr watched as Dwarves threw the bodies of the fallen Orcs onto a growing pyre.


Unable to get to the body, to prepare the body for burial, to say the rites, to let the Orc lay in peace, and to tell Helya of one that should pass by her realm and ascend to the Hall of Valor, Leidolfr turned and continued South, a fire blazing in his soul. He doubted he would find Peace where he was going, but at least he would find a drink.

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