Chapter : A Not-So-Blunt Instrument
Tucker barely had a chance to shrink back as the man jabbed the pitchfork in his face. Those tips gleamed in the early morning sunlight that filtered in through the gaps between the barn’s wooden planks. Tucker almost went cross eyed as he attempted to judge how close the metal spikes were from his face. Did he have enough of a chance to roll out of the way and at least put a few feet between him and this presumed farmer?
He started to roll, but the man stopped him with his boot.
“Did you not just hear what I said?” the man asked, his voice gruff and unforgiving. “I said you are going to do what I tell you, and I don’t remember telling you to move an inch. No orc is going to steal from me and get away with it.”
“I-I’m not a thief!” said Tucker, trying to talk fast enough that he could get out what he needed to say without being impaled. “I’m just a traveler. Shenna told me I could rest in here last night. I promise, I didn’t touch anything!”
He didn’t know who the man was, but common sense told Tucker that this guy was probably Shenna’s father. The last thing he wanted to do was betray Shenna’s trust and use any of his mage abilities on her father. Not only would it do damage to the man’s body (either freezing or burning) but any sort of attack would lower Tucker’s reputation. If he attacked an innocent farmer trying to protect his barn, even if it was a misunderstanding, Tucker would risk losing some of his job opportunities - not to mention he might ruin things with Alton’s family. He hadn’t even met them yet, and considering that the Digby’s lived right across the way from Shenna’s family, word had to travel extremely quickly.
The man focused his eyes on Tucker’s helmet and rolled it over with the toe of his boot. His eyes narrowed.
“Maybe you didn’t touch anything of mine,” he said through gritted teeth. “But, no orc like you would have use for armor like this, or that sword. I know this all came from Castlederg. Nobody makes swords like Bartemeus. What did you do? Steal it from him when he wasn’t looking? I’m warning you right now, filth, that if you harmed Bartemeus or anyone in Castlederg, I will make sure you pay for what you have done. There’s such a thing as private justice out here in Sorrell, and I’m not afraid to -”
The man was interrupted from his ranting by a familiar - and friendly - voice.
“Daddy! What are you doing?”
It was Shenna. Tucker sighed in relief as he heard the girl’s feet coming up the ladder to the loft. If anyone would set things straight, it would be Shenna. All Tucker had to do was wait for her to get up here…
But, then he remembered that Shenna hadn’t seen him without his helmet on. For all she knew, he was just another human boy trying to play hero. Nobody besides Alton knew that Tucker was an orc, and his chances of getting out of this situation without being harmed - or harming someone else - suddenly were greatly diminished.
This was the part of Tucker’s journey where he had to smack himself in the head for everything that had snowballed together. When he watched movies, he always got frustrated when issues arose because the characters in the stories couldn’t just communicate plainly. “If I was in that situation,” he always said, “I would just be up front. That would take away all the misunderstanding.”
Well, now here he was, living with lies and deception. He was a fool to think that he could hide his true heritage forever.
As expected, Shenna got to the top of the loft and began telling her father off for attacking Tucker.
“Put that down!” she demanded. “I thought I told you that there would be a boy up here sleeping -”
Suddenly her eyes turned to Tucker and widened. Her jaw slackened and she appeared to be choking on her words for a moment before the hard no-nonsense expression that Tucker had grown used to returned to her attractive features.
“What did you do to Tucker, orc?” she said, yanking the pitchfork from her father’s hands and jabbing it at Tucker for herself this time. “Speak quick! What have you done to him?”
“Shenna, it’s me!” said Tucker as he raised both hands out in front of him. “I promise, it’s me!”
There was no more explanation needed as Tucker pleaded with the girl. At the sound of his voice, her brows relaxed and a look of recognition dawned on her face.
“Tucker? What in Elgarth’s name happened to you?”
Shenna’s father glanced at her in disbelief.
“You know this orc?” he asked.
“Yes! Well - in a way. He wasn’t an orc before…” She turned to Tucker with an inquiring look. “Or, were you? Are you under some sort of transfiguration or spell by another mage?”
“I don’t believe so,” said Tucker as he cautiously got to his feet. “That is…I’m not sure. I have no memory of what happened to me beyond a few days ago. So, take it all with a grain of salt.”
For the first time since he had met her, Tucker saw disappointment on Shenna as she brushed her hair out of her face.
“So, you were lying to me the entire time?” she said. “With that helmet on, you were just going to keep pretending that you weren’t an orc underneath?”
“Does it really matter?” asked Tucker as he brushed some hay from the back of his pants. “It’s just the way I look. I haven’t pillaged any villages or harmed anyone.”
“That you know of,” said Shenna’s father who still observed Tucker like he was a hideous insect from the bowels of the earth. “If you have no memory of your past beyond a few days ago, who’s to say that you aren’t some killer who was sent south by your kind to infiltrate us and concoct ways to take us down from within? We’ve been putting up a good fight on the northern border for months now. I wouldn’t put it past the orcs to try something so nefarious.”
“I would never do something like that,” said Tucker. “Besides, Alton Digby knows me and can vouch for my character. I rescued The Castine from a sea monster.”
This made the man laugh heartily.
“A sea monster?” he said. “You expect me to believe that you, a lowly orc, took down a kraken - the lord of the sea - by yourself?” He shook his head. “Now I’ve heard everything. And I believe nothing. Where did you get this armor, and that sword?”
“I didn’t steal it, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”
“That’s exactly what I’m insinuating.”
“Well, I didn’t. I don’t exactly have receipts, but you can check with Bartemeus. He will remember me, and so will a lot of other people in Castlederg. I purchased this gear with my own hard-earned gold, and I will take it back, if you don’t mind.”
The man took the pitch fork from Shenna and kept it pointed, albeit a bit less stiffly, at Tucker as he replied.
“I still don’t believe that an orc like you earned gold by doing an honorable job. If you’re not hired by overlords to take out innocent, hard-working folk like us, you kill and steal to take what you want. Everyone knows this. It’s been like that since the dawn of Acaedia.”
“Maybe I’m the first orc to try to break the mold,” Tucker argued. This was much more of a philosophical debate than he had expected to have upon waking up in a loft. He wasn’t going to be intimidated by this man, especially since Shenna had laid off the accusations. Maybe she was taking what he had said to heart. He certainly hadn’t done anything since he had met her to imply that he was a double-crosser. Tucker solidified his stance in the hay and looked directly at Shenna’s father. “If you’re going to point a sharp object at me, can I at least know your name?”
The man wasn’t going to answer, but thankfully Shenna stepped up to the rescue.
“This is my father, Jonas Meadows. My mother, Candace, is inside doing the cooking. I was just on my way up here to check on you when I heard the altercation.” She eyed her father who lowered the pitchfork a bit more.
“You said there was a boy sleeping up in the loft,” he told her. “You didn’t tell me that I would find a full-fledged orc under one of our horses’s blankets!”
Shenna wasn’t moved to continue being suspicious. If anything, she had softened and was more sympathetic now as she moved close to Tucker and helped him get some straw out of his hair and off the back of his leather armor.
“I didn’t know either, but here we are.” She plucked a few more strands of hay from the back of Tucker’s hair and flicked them to the floor. “I’m sorry for the rude awakening, Tucker. If I had known -”
Tucker interrupted her.
“It’s not your fault,” he said. “I should have told you the truth about me. I was just afraid that you wouldn’t want to travel with me if you knew what I really was. That’s why I kept the helmet on. Acaedia hasn’t exactly been the most welcoming place…at first.”
Both of them looked over at Jonas who continued to show suspicion.
“If you’re expecting me to welcome you with open arms, then don’t hold your breath. Just because you walked one town over with my daughter doesn’t mean that I will trust my life, or the lives of my family, to you, orc. We are friendly folk around these parts, but not to the likes of your kind. Not unless you can prove that you deserve it.”
Tucker had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. What was it with this world and constantly having to prove himself? How much would he have to do in order to make people believe that he wasn’t going to slit their throats while they slept?
“Not to insult you, sir,” Tucker started. “But, if I had wanted to do you harm, I would have pushed my way into your home while you were all asleep and done away with you. It would have been all too easy for me to slit your throats with my sword and nobody would have known until your neighbors came to inquire about you.”
Jonas raised an eyebrow. When he didn’t speak, Tucker continued.
“I know it’s not the prettiest of images, but I don’t know how else to defend myself. Anyone with a sword can become a murderer, and anyone with a desire for something can become a thief. It’s the ones who choose not to do those things that have a moral standing. Isn’t that true in Acaedia?” He rested his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Just because I have a sword doesn’t mean that I’m going to slaughter innocent people. I didn’t even kill the two bandits who tried to hold us up on the bridge across the way.”
He glanced at Shenna for support, and true to form, she gave it.
“Tucker’s right. He could have killed those two men outright, but he didn’t. I saw him pull back. If he had wanted to, he could have cut them to bits when they were down, or cooked them to a crisp with his fire abilities.”
Jonas pressed his lips together as if he were seriously considering what he was being told. Then, he grunted and lowered the pitchfork until his fingers released it. The tool landed on the floorboards with a twang.
“Those are all good arguments,” he said. “But, I’m not going to welcome you with open arms just because you can speak eloquently. It will take a lot more than that for me to ever be friends with an orc.” He sniffed. “Be that as it may, I suppose I owe you the courtesy of delivering you to the Digby’s. If Alton truly knows you, then we will see the truth of your words. If he doesn’t recognize you…then we will decide what to do with you.” He glanced at his daughter and added, “I’ve also never known of an orc to practice magic. That’s even more questionable. If he tries to run, shoot him. Come on.”
Tucker took his helmet and was led out onto the path that returned him to the roadway. In the sunlight he could see farther in the distance than he ever could have at night. The scenery was gorgeous, and that was an understatement. Nowhere in the real world had he traveled through such fresh greenery. There were rows of red and blue corn-like vegetables that flared off into three different directions as they sprouted out of the stalks. Large swaths of fresh hay was being grown in preparation for the colder months and the wind tugged at it, creating a mesmerizing illusion of the vegetation being liquified.
Beyond the fields of produce, Tucker’s brows raised at a sweeping range of sharp-peaked mountains in the distance. The bases were covered in lush trees and other greenery and as his eyes traveled upwards, the trees gave way to great rocky ledges and eventually snow-capped peaks. He wanted to travel up to the tops of those mountains, but for now he had a duty to fulfill and hopefully an experiential reward.
The sunlight warmed him up as he passed the Digby fields and came to the farmhouse. Off in the distance was a young man driving a plow, pulled along by a robust looking specimen of the three-horned cow-beast. The young man didn’t notice as the assembly made it to the porch, and Tucker walked confidently up the stairs and was stopped at the front door by Jonas, who pushed him to the side.
“Hold on just a minute,” he said. “I’ll do the knocking and the talking. Just in case you try to throw some spell over the Digbys…”
Tucker knew that such an act was beyond his ability, but it would do no good arguing with Jonas. He let the man feel as if he were in charge.
After a sturdy knock and no response, Jonas called out from his spot on the porch.
“Hello? Emma, are you in there? It’s Jonas Meadows. I have to speak with your son for a moment.”
There was shuffling from within the farmhouse as, presumably, Emma Digby set aside whatever she had been working on before replying to the inquiry.
“Jonas? This is unexpected,” she called back from her spot within the house’s rooms. Tucker assumed that the kitchen must have been not far from the entrance of the farmhouse. There was a pause in speech with some clanking of what sounded like cast-iron, then, “Just a moment! I’ll be right there -”
She never made it to the door, however, because another voice cut her off.
“I will get it! Don’t worry, I’ve got the door!”
Emma shot back without a moment’s hesitation.
“Alton - you’re supposed to be upstairs resting! Get back up there!”
“It’s alright! I can do it. You’re worrying too much, Mom.”
If Emma was going to protest any further, she wasn’t fast enough because the sound of feet pounding down the stairs was heard all the way out on the porch, and Tucker couldn’t help but grin as he pictured his shipmate hurrying to the doorway.
At last the door was opened with a clink and a creak, and sure enough, Alton’s smiling face appeared.
“Tucker!” he said, widening the doorway as he laid eyes on his friend. “I knew you would make it! Come in, please!”
Tucker’s grin wasn’t lost on Jonas because the man’s face slackened in shock as Alton grabbed Tucker by the arm and dragged him into the house.
Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.