Small Packages: Famine’s Respite
Marius had more than a little trouble sleeping that night. Luca’s nap came and went too quickly. The wolves which normally slept and awoke sporadically forewent their normal routine and tonight they simply huddled together in an exhausted and deep slumber.
Marius was bone weary and his body welcomed rest but his mind raced with the grim possibilities around him. Orc arrows and sorcery were enemies he could accept and face, the restless dead and writhing hordes of insects as allies was a bit more difficult to swallow. The landscape surround their campsite in the Famine King’s lands were dominated by burial mounds, monuments that hardly induced comforting rest. Yet what disturbed Marius the most was Luca’s easy demeanor. Luca had no issue sleeping.
Marius was a bit haunted by the battle. The wizard commander tried to use fireballs to burn a hole for the legion soldiers to charge through. Those footmen died horribly the moment they crossed the stream. The echo of the screams of the dying orcs would haunt Marius’ nightmares. The venom in Captain Septimus’ voice as he shouted after them with a magic mouth as he fell, Marius had no doubt the wizard would rise again another creature entirely.
The brothers walked about an hour into the famine king’s territory before settling on a campsite. The entire way they were escorted by all manner of horrors, the last of which was an elvish vampire maiden wearing livery from a long dead elven house. She had prepared the campsite. Luca did a curious thing by bowing to her as deeply as he would an empress.
The oldest and uncensored books were in elvish and usually preferred by scholars. The vampire spoke only elvish which was effectively a scholar’s tongue. After the orcs nearly exterminated the elves by raining alchemical fire down on them from the first fleet of skyships, they conquered most of the northern continent. Old books are often confiscated and translated with some edits into another orc invention the printing press. New books often revised old history, and restructured old ideas. Every village in the Imperium had a school that taught orcish history and had an imperial library. In time men would forget elves or that the world was ever any different than it is under the emperor.
Luca bled for the elvish vampire girl into a cup. She was grateful but Luca dismissed her offer to stand watch. Marius stood watch alone for two hours contemplating their present circumstances. In the end he concluded that he found the Famine King and his minions deeply disturbing and offensive to his moral aesthetic to promote beauty, but to raise his hand against a being whose only actions have been hospitable would be more offensive to his core choice to value loyalty above all other things.
When Luca awoke, a dead legionnaire shambled out of the darkness and greeted the brothers in Punic, the Orcish soldier’s tongue. The zombie’s words were clearly not his own and accompanied by an internal buzzing. Marius eventually realized a locust was wedged in the back of its throat and the buzzing was its wings.
The famine king spoke through the dead orc.“You show old world courtesy winter gnome, for that I accepted your bargain. If I am not mistaken you are a summoner like myself though of a different sort. I would like to discuss your magic with you and perhaps bargain with you further. Do you speak sylvian or draconic?”
Luca of course spoke both and the conversation drifted to places Marius would not likely understand even if he spoke the appropriate languages. Marius drifted into and out of sleep frequently, his will in conflict with the needs of his body.
On waking in the morning, Marius realized two things. First, by the position of the sun in the sky it was far later in the morning then it should be, second that Luca seemed cheerful which was uncharacteristic at best.
“What have you done with my brother?” Marius muttered.
Luca handed him a steaming cup of what from the smell of it was the last of their southern coffee.“Never mind, whoever you are, I think I like you better.” When he tasted the cup, Marius meant it.
As Luca explained what he learned and intended, Marius soon realized that he too was smiling. This was an uncomfortable place to sleep, but the Famine King was in the very least a useful ally. Luca was eager for the road, and perhaps eager for a fight. Marius didn’t expect to be but found that he too was eager for a fight.
A night’s sleep can do that.