It is said that once upon a time, before the dragons had learned to shapeshift, they decided to use their magics to create a race of perfect servitors. The creatures they created were strong, and quick, and prolific, and so hardy that they could live on a diet of filth and poison.
Unfortunately, they used their own criminals and lunatics as raw material, and the creatures were invariably surly, uncooperative, and not quite sane.
The dragons called them, "Orcs".
--Leod, the Storyteller of Freepost
I woke up in a pleasant forest meadow. The sun was warm, the grass was cool, and the birds were singing sweetly. I felt like the local militia had used my body as a drill field while breaking in their new hob-nailed boots. I opened the eye that wasn't buried in the turf and saw nothing of consequence, so I gritted my teeth and lifted my head to have a look around. The birds stopped singing. After I had forced my unhappy body into a sitting position, I was still in a pleasant forest meadow. I was also stark naked and hopelessly lost.
I found myself staring at my hand, which was the color of mildewed rawhide-not a color I normally associated with living tissue. I looked closer and saw vestigial scales... which meant I was an orc. I didn't remember being an orc. On the other hand, I didn't honestly remember NOT being an orc...
Orcdom was not a bad state, all things considered. Orcs could thrive on a diet of anything their teeth could grind, and their teeth could grind anything of animal or vegetable origin. I found a likely looking tree, and set about gnawing it off at the base. Several hours of boredom later, I had a very serviceable spear with a bit of a hook on its nether end. I climbed into a tree to watch the sun set and try to sleep; my spear was tangled with a nearby branch and within easy reach.
I didn't have a name. I'm tempted to say I knew nothing about myself, but that would not be true; I knew I was well educated. I could name the titles of several books I had read, and I could recite most of "The Fall of Aneshka Skyrider," but I had no context for the knowledge; I knew that literacy was unusual because I had read the fact in a book.
I assumed that I had been teleported into the clearing where I awakened; I was no tracker, but the earth was soft and there were no marks of any kind except those I had made myself. As far as I knew, I couldn't cast a teleport spell, and there was no way to teleport someone without going oneself-or so my books told me. So someone had taken me out here and left me, which meant I had a fairly powerful enemy. No name, but an enemy. Such joy!
And then there was the odd feeling of not quite belonging in my body, as if it were a new set of clothes that were not quite broken in. I had no idea if that were meaningful or not; there were too many things definitely wrong with my mind to make much of a vague uneasiness. The sun went down; I relaxed into my tree branch, and fell asleep.
The next day I started marching in a direction that approximated South. That is, I intended to keep the sun to my left until it was fairly high in the sky, and then head straight for the sun until it was definitely descending, and then keep it to my right. I wouldn't travel straight, but I WOULD end up farther south than I started...
It was roughly noon when I came to a rather large meadow and started across it; my feet were holding up well, and I felt as good about my situation as I sanely could. And then suddenly something sharp hit me in the back and knocked me head over heels; I managed to hold onto the spear by instinct. There was a sensation in my shoulders that I knew was going to be pain in a few seconds, and I suspected that I had been cut-or torn-badly. I forced myself to my feet and pivoted, looking for the source of my injury.
Something vaguely draconic was diving straight at me; I hurled myself out of the way, and thrust the spear into its belly as I ducked. The spear cut; the creature's claws didn't. I stood again and got ready for the next pass.
I watched it turn, and recognized it as a gilga spawn, a warp creature, rather than a dragon. Not as smart as a dragon-or an orc, for that matter-but still much better armed and armored than I was. It tried another flying grab, and again I managed to hit it on the dodge.
It didn't learn; it tried the same trick five more times, and each time I hurt it a little bit more. On the last pass I managed to rip open one of its wings, and it crashed to the ground in a heap. It rolled back onto its feet, though, and spun around angrily, looking for its prey.
I was spent; the tension and the blood loss had taken their toll. I faced the monster unsteadily, and hoped it would impale itself on my spear; I was exhausted and out of tricks. The gilga came in low, mouth agape; I shifted the spear butt from my right instep to my right hand, and shoved the spear into the gilga's mouth; I think it was already dead when it barreled into me, but I still ended up underneath it.
Once the shock of being alive wore off, I wormed my way free, and had a truly disgusting meal of raw gilga breast. My books told me that orcs could eat warp tainted meat without ill effect, but my throat didn't seem to understand that very well. Still, it couldn't have been much worse than the cellulose I had eaten the day before. I found a respectable tree and hauled myself into it, and then waited to either heal or die.
I didn't move the next day, but by dawn of the day after that I was ready for another meal of gilga meat, and continued walking. Eventually I came to a decent sized watercourse, and I followed THAT downstream until it brought me to an obviously navigable river, and I followed that upstream, because otherwise I would have had to swim. Five days after my fight with the gilga I found myself on the edge of civilization.
The edge of civilization, in this case, consisted of a horned elf, a wakana wolf-man, and an orc arguing over who was going get the first chance to rape the vermite rat-girl they had captured. They didn't notice me as I approached.
I stopped and though about it. The gilga wounds on my back were healing, but a long way from fully healed. And there were three of them, and they had real weapons, and all I had was a pointy stick. I would be an idiot to interfere...
...Except that I had a head full of heroic poetry, and that I was painfully aware that I had NO other ethical decisions in my memory. I was a blank slate, and the next few moments were going to determine what kind of character I had, if any.
"Let the girl go, boys," I said, with as much conviction as I could muster. The trio looked up, gaped, and started to laugh. "I am quite serious," I continued; once you start to bluff, you have to play it through. "Let her go, or die."
The elf scowled, caught the wakana's eye, and jerked his thumb at me. The wakana drew his sword and advanced. I dodged the wakana's sword and managed to crease his hide a bit with my spear. The wakana growled; the elf said, "Hold her," presumably to the orc, and drew his own sword; I started to back away.
They tried to surround me, which is difficult with only two men. It forced them to separate enough that I was able to charge in for a quick exchange of blows with the elf before the wakana could get involved. My blow landed; the elf's didn't, and then I was off again. They didn't change their tactics, and I managed to deliver a butt stroke to the elf's face that took him down.
I turned to face the Wakana, and managed to hit him again while his sword whistled past my shoulder; I hit him a third time, and felt his sword bite into me. We separated, and I missed my footing; I was set to feel that sword a second time when I realized that my wild thrust had caught the wakana high in the belly, and that his next blow would never fall.
I recovered my spear, and made my way back to the orc and his prisoner; my fight with Brother Orc's companions had taken us a fair distance away. I found Brother Orc hitching up his trousers; he had apparently taken my intervention as an opportunity to move to the head of the line with regard to the vermite girl. I would have spitted him where he stood, but he heard me coming and dove for his spear.
I stabbed him, dodged his return, and stabbed him again. I mistimed the next dodge, and took a solid thrust to the leg in penalty. We separated, then closed again, and I managed to land the killing blow before he could hit me again. I settled wearily to my knees.
After I had caught my breath, I looked at the vermite girl, who was watching me through tear filled eyes while she clutched at the remains of her clothing. "Do you know your way home from here?" I asked quietly; she nodded once, slowly. "Then go home." She shook her head; I sighed, and got to my feet. "Follow me, then," I said.
I planted my spear in the dirt, then recovered Brother Orc's spear and planted it as well. I took a few deep breaths, then hoisted Brother Orc onto my shoulder, grabbed his spear, and walked to where I had left the bodies of the elf and the wakana. I cut all three throats with the elf's dagger (just to be sure), then stripped the elf and the orc; I had no interest in the wakana's fetid loincloth, but I did take his swordbelt and his purse. That done, I bundled my new possessions and carried them to the river, where I washed the clothing as thoroughly as I could. The girl followed and watched me with wide eyes.
The elf's clothes were of much better quality, but the orc's fit. I offered the elf's shirt to the girl; she took it, and put it on. The clothes were soggy, but the day was warm, and it felt good to actually have clothing again. The girl seemed to agree. I strapped on the elf's sword and dagger, tied the elf's buckler to the wakana's swordbelt with the elf's trousers and slung THAT over my shoulder, then picked up the orc's spear.
"Can you still find your way home?" I asked; she nodded again. "Do you have a name?"
"Pepper." she said so quietly I could barely hear.
"Well, then, Pepper, unless you have a better idea, we might as well go there. I not only don't have a home, I don't even have a name."
That startled her. "No name? How can you not have a name?"
I shrugged, and it hurt; everything hurt. "I have no idea. I woke up in a meadow a few days ago; I have a head full of history books, but no idea who I am or how I got there." Pepper shook her head doubtfully, then turned and started walking; I followed her.
The sun was setting when we arrived at the edge of a small village; I could see the lights of a much larger town across the river. The village consisted of a vermite warren and a few more substantial buildings, the largest of which was farthest away, and had the look of a smithy. At the edge of the warren I was suddenly surrounded by a wary crowd of vermites, and Pepper was nowhere to be seen. I planted the butt of my spear and leaned on it heavily, wondering what would happen next.
I didn't have long to wait; a one-legged dwarf with the shoulders of a pack horse hobbled out of the growing darkness. He looked me over with interest.
"Three of them, you say?" the dwarf asked no one in particular, then looked me in the eye.
"Take off your shirt, boy." I shrugged and did as I was told. "That sword cut is going to need a fair amount of sewing, boy. And where did the claw marks come from?"
"Gilga spawn. Five days ago."
"They could use some work, too... That blood on your trousers yours?"
I nodded. "This spear. Previous owner." Some of the vermites snickered at that, but the dwarf didn't even smile.
"You outran a gilga spawn, boy?"
I shook my head. "Killed it. It only hit me the once; that was enough."
"With your teeth?"
I shook my head again. "Wooden spear that I made with my teeth, and sharpened against a rock. Same one I used today."
"So where'd you leave it?"
"Stuck in the ground, where I left it after I got this one." I jostled my spear indicatively.
The dwarf stared into my face for a long moment, then said, "There's a place in the forge where you can sleep tonight. In the morning we'll look into having those wounds treated, if you live that long." He turned and stumped off toward the smithy; I followed him. He wasn't fast on his peg leg, but I wasn't very fast, either.
It felt odd to stretch out flat and sleep under a roof for the first time. I was sure that I must have done so before, but... that was before. That was in the life that seemed to be lost.
There was a noise at the smithy door, then it opened and Pepper came in carrying a blanket. She gave it to me, and stared at me for several seconds. "I prayed to the Red Lady," she said, so softly I could barely hear her even in the stillness. "I prayed to Elethay the Warrior that you would come back and kill him, and you did. Thank you."
I wrapped myself in the blanket. "Thank the Lady," I said. "And you're welcome. Thank you for the blanket." I think she smiled at that, then she turned and left.
I dreamed that night...
I dreamed that I was in a large, dark room, and that something was pounding on what I knew was the door. The door burst open, and a dragon entered. The dragon had an aura of size, and power, and majesty, though it did not actually seem to take up very much space. It looked straight at me for a very long time, and then I felt it smile, though its face did not move.
The room got brighter, and I could see that the walls were lined with books on bookshelves. The dragon took a book off the shelf, and opened it, and seemed surprised by what it saw. It replaced that book, and looked at another, and then a third, and then it looked at me some more. It seemed pleased.
At the far side of the room there was a large door that was locked and barred; the dragon went to it, looked at me again, and then tore the door off of its hinges. There was an air of wrongness in the room, in addition to another dragon which had an aura of being weak and confused and afraid, even though it looked a great deal like the first dragon. The weak dragon was guarding a pile of debris which contained the bones of an elf and several shredded books.
The first dragon looked at me, and again I felt it smile, then it turned and flew away. I turned to look for the second dragon, but it was gone, and I was standing on the pile of shredded books. I sat down, and the dream ended.
The dwarf returned at dawn; he was carrying my wooden spear, and using it as a staff. He dressed my wounds personally, and I thought that he was also casting healing magic as he did so. After he was finished, he sat on a box and offered me his hand. "Perrin Ironhand," he said; I shook his hand.
"I would tell you my name, " I began.
"But you don't have one. I know. One will find you, I think. Are you looking for work, or just passing through?"
"I have no idea," I answered. "Is there work to be found?"
"I could stand another apprentice, if you don't mind hard work."
"I could do with some food and a softer bed..."
Perrin laughed. "I imagine you could. I can arrange it."
"Then I guess you have an apprentice."
"Well enough. Welcome to Ferrypoint." And we shook hands again.