Remember the Scalzi/Wheaton benefit anthology, with the fan fiction contest? You may have noticed that I posted my son’s (non)entry? Of course you do. Well, I thought I would post my losing entry.
No, the winning story hasn’t been chosen. I’m just assuming.
Anyway, I dropped my son off at the day camp and have a few extra hours to myself. Of course it’s gorgeous weather out there, but I’m going to spend it on The Buried King. I doubt I’ll have something ready to send to my agent by the end of the day, but I should be able to take a big bite out of it. Especially when I turn off my modem, as I’m about to do.
Then I get to vacuum.
Anyway, here’s the story (about 800-words worth), behind the cut.
CHOKE UP, SCALBAG
by Harry Connolly
Choke up, Scalbag. I shorten grip on long axe, like trainer say. I have big idea about fighting. I tell trainer I will carry shield on strong arm. I tell trainer I live longer in battle. Fight more. Maybe even win next time.
Trainer laughs. Trainer says Scalbag think has strong arm. Cohort all laugh. Ha ha, they say. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Sometimes they Bwah-ah-ah. Trainer says my Dignified Death come swift.
I do not care. Big idea is big. But I do not get chance to prove it because fighting drills already over. We spend rest of morning practicing falling so our corpses trip enemies. After lunch, we practice throwing down weapons and retreating at full speed. Trainer says first good thing about me ever. He says I scream like my terror is real. I am proud even though my arms are sore from throwing down heavy axe and shield.
Yes, Dignified Death against knight in shiny armor or elves with soft caps and stiff bows is good but Shameful Life even better.
That night we get beans for dinner. I know what that means. Everyone knows. Orcs eat beans before battle because stink from our corpses makes elves and men weep and question love of their gods. It is Orcish Final Revenge.
I sit next to brother to eat. I am pretty sure he is my brother, but it is hard to remember. I have eighty six. Orc mothers have many litters to replace warriors killed by Armies of Good. That is good. Also, it is bad because my brother steals hat from me but I can not get it back because I can not find him because I do not know his name or smell.
After few seconds, I realize my brother is crying. Many others cry too, but I do not care about them because they are not my brothers. Probably.
“Do not worry too much,” I say. “Maybe you live long enough to retreat. Yes? Retreat from three battles, and you become trainer! Stay home and never eat beans again. Only gruel.”
“You Scalbag, yes?” I smile at him and nod. “You most stupid man in cohort. Shut up or I make you retreat from me.”
I decide to show him my Big Idea by splitting his head open. I grab shield and axe, but I forget to choke up and axe is hard to lift.
Brother grabs rock. My shield is on wrong side, and he hits me on head.
Next morning, I wake up with beans on my face. Not Dignified. We march until noon, stopping at foot of steep trail to eat more beans. I sit beside group of warriors who complain about plume of black smoke from volcanoes ahead. “Give me deserts,” one says. “It is hot and dry but sand is soft under my feet.”
“Give me marshes,” another says. “They smell like dirty feet but bugs are delicious.”
“Give me piece of bacon stuck to back of Scalbag’s head,” third one says. “It is disgusting, but I am hungry.”
They laugh. I wipe my head with shirt and find bacon. I hungry, too. I eat it. Shameful Life.
Commander pushes through crowd, shouting my name. I stand up. He comes close to me. “Scalbag, you are scout. Go ten thousand steps up that trail. If you see no enemies, come back.”
“What if I see enemies?”
He does not answer. I push through crowd and start up trail. Commander did not have to answer. Only answer is Don’t get killed running away. Dignified Death or Shameful Life are only good choices.
Once, my uncle say that all orcs are throwaways, like cheap arrows, but only most worst are sent out alone. Only worst are scouts. I hold shield high and choke up on axe. They think my big idea is dumb. I prove them wrong when I win first battle ever for orc. I will be commander then, and will send all my brothers into mountains with bacon stuck to them.
Trail is hot and air is dry. Spot where my head was bashed with rock starts to hurt extra. I am counting 300th step for sixth or seventh time when I remember that shield was on wrong side to block rock. Wrong side for attack. If it had not been my brother last night, if it had been knight in armor or dwarf with spiked mace, I would have been dead. Very dignified, but dead.
Maybe holding shield on other side of body not very big idea at all. Maybe it is small idea.
I hear sound overhead, like wings but with roof rabbit mrowwing. It comes from wrong side where I have no shield and coming very fast. Oh no. I look upward, hoping my death will be Dignified.
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