Yenrab stopped upon a high outcrop outside of town and took in a deep breath. A single cloud passed overhead, casting a shadow over his broad frame. Still, he shaded his eyes with a broad and calloused hand as he observed the settlement. It was rather distant, but it felt intimidating to the young man anyways.
He scratched at his chin, dislodged some sort of insect and absentmindedly popped it into his mouth for a good chew.
Advice. That’s what I need.
Plopping his rucksack down in front of him, he pulled out the sturdy adventurer’s guide and opened it at its table of contents. Much of it was unreadable, though a mental voice, perhaps Ghost Dad’s, reassured him that it wouldn’t always be so. He found this to be strange. Not as weird as was this new entry bearing his name, though. Thumbing through the pages in haste, he came upon his entry into the great volume.
Yenrab Atsittab—An imposing and intimidating barbarian known for his love of animals, good morals and bad hygiene.
The rest of the page was blank.
“Well, if that just doesn’t . . .” the barbarian griped. It wasn’t much use complaining about a book written by Jerold Frey at the behest of the gods. Doing such things was blasphemous (Footnote: Strangely enough most blasphemous things coincide with the opinions of the priests, shamans and clerics who pronounce them). Or so he assumed, at any rate.
He closed the tome and shoved it back into his ruck, letting the thing rock as he did so. The book gave good advice, but it was a little frustrating as well. He’d have to adjust to its ways before he went berserk and tore out all of its pages.
The thought made him smile way too much.
No, no, I need it for a quest. I think?
The way down from this height was rather steep and all at once, Yenrab was tired of walking. It was time to get a move on. Yenrab gazed about him, staying alert to any possible dangers that might beset him. He pulled his rucksack back onto his shoulders and strapped it firmly against his body. He then took a running leap. Yenrab soared for a moment and then his stout legs caught the ground and he slowly surfed a wave of gritty, loose soil to a copse of trees.
Clever that, he thought to himself, his legs thanking him for the shortcut. Weaving his way through bushes and trunks, he made his way forward.
Yenrab ambled into that colonial town, the first he had found in these Western Reaches and perhaps his ticket to a new life. Orcs, humans, half-orcs and even a big dumb-looking ogre stopped what they were doing and stared. The fires of their labor or the goods of their livelihoods were left neglected in their curiosity. Yenrab didn’t like it. He paused, his eyes furtive as he slowed his pace through this strange and novel place. His eyes searched theirs and he did just like they did, watching the settlers warily.
Eh, he thought after a bit of it, this is nothing. They are just curious. And this is their home. I should have expected this.
He softened his gaze, giving them an open-eyed gleam that signaled, back in his tribe, merriment and laughter packaged into one large bundle of exuberant muscle (One Large Bundle of Exuberant Muscle would, by the way, make for a clever band name. You are welcome.).
No one budged. Yenrab shrugged and stopped looking at them.
Around him everything was new and cosmopolitan. A city! Fair-skinned humans, large ogres and tusked orcs went about their business dressed in leathers, skins and furs. It was disappointingly a lot like home. But there were things that were different. Like that thing over there. A merry little sign stood festooned with dyed strips of paperlike aster bark, written in Orcish as well as a couple of other languages, posted here near the town’s entrance.
“Place for Ships” it read proudly.
An astonishing name and not one that was regular for settlers – who seemed to like pretty words with extra meaning – or so the shaman had said. Like that big, big city he had visited once with the old man. Gennopolis. The sound a disturbed magical fish makes when pulled from a lake and stomped on desperately as it breathes flame all over your boat (Flame breathing fish are well worth the effort though. Expensive, tasty and you can use one to cook all the others). Not a practical name at all. Gennopolis didn’t even have a lake!
No, this was a small colonial outpost of little report with the tremendous name of Place for Ships. He’d be proud to have been its author. It was a very to-the-point name made by a very to-the-point person or by some ruler, that, well, he doubted was known for nonsense or tomfoolery.
Beyond the sign, wooden ramps led out into the ocean, with three large ships tied to them, triangles of fabric stretched across their centers. Newly risen buildings stood stout and proud on a grid-like pattern, wafting the aroma of sweet pine and oak, with a hint of sap, their construction so recent that their age could be determined through smell.
Humans, orcs and ogres lugged trunks of timber through an entrance in the wooden palisades, with men of trade awkwardly holding weapons at the gate. A sweaty man wearing chainmail with metal greaves, a shield and a longsword that gleamed bright in the light of noon was overseeing the settlers’ work.
He gazed back at the people near him. A couple of dirty little children were making fun of him in the corner. He gave them a monstrous glare and they squealed and scattered. He checked the faces of the adults again for some kind of reaction. There wasn’t one, most of them had already gone back to their work.
Good news, that, he thought, relieved that they didn’t think of him as some random monstrous encounter.
He stayed rooted where he was, feeling both safe and fascinated.
Make way for the queen! he thought, surprised at the bustle in the town’s folks’ steps. It was almost desperate the way they haggled, scraped, battered and scurried.
Here money seemed to rule as the chief. People exchanged their coins, trading furs, crops and machined materials from other lands. His eyes gleamed with childish delight as he spied a few fancy things that really looked quite nice.
At one stall, an awkward and gangly young man weighed the merits of a light silver necklace in one hand against a golden brooch in the other. He swayed the chain gently and rotated the brooch, letting both glitter and sparkle. The merchant nodded and grinned, a gesture that the young man enthusiastically returned. He dived his hand into his purse and slapped coins onto the shopkeeper’s oaken counter.
Yenrab felt more than a little jealous at the ease of the exchange. He could imagine a life such as this.
Upon the spirit of the Bear, I vow this, he thought. I shall end my days surrounded by pretty doodads. And cats. And maybe a dog. But definitely doodads (The wonderful thing about doodads is that there is one for every occasion).
Across from the stall, under an awning marked “Blacksmith”, a sweaty orc was covered in blackish grit as he pumped a bellows underneath a heap of magma-like coal. “Hotter, damn you!” he growled at it as he readied it for work with iron and steel.
Yenrab felt silly. For a moment he had thought it was like the tribe. This was not at all like the tribe. Here they worked fine metals, built tremendous structures and created the things that the tribe traded for.
“Oh my!” came a high feminine voice, followed by mirthful squeals (The most dreadful sound on the planet to a young straight man is the sound of young women giggling).
Yenrab glanced back and forth. He had again become an object of curiosity.
“Jedrah above!” exclaimed the woman, trying to get his attention. She stood in the middle of the dusty street, her two companions a step back and flanking her from either side.
He spun. There he was, a gigantic beast of a man wrapped in smelly and raggish furs. He brandished weapons of steel made by people not his own. Of course, he was scaring the ladyfolk. As women of Icegard, they stood tall and strong and wore short swords at their sides.
Yenrab peered into their eyes and realized that they were not at all intimidated. Why would they be? They wore manufactured leather shoes, tanned fur trousers, cotton shirts and fancy leather vests. He wore little and what he had was primitive and coarse. These women of Icegard stood proud, their hair zipped civilly into tails protruding from the backs of their heads and scabbards held short swords at their sides. He blushed and realized that it was he who felt overpowered. He wondered if he should flee.
“Who are you, my handsome man-monster?” asked the leader of the trio as they advanced on him. Yenrab glanced back and forth, not sure at all what to do.
“Uhm . . . uh . . . I’m . . . uh . . . Yenner . . . Ab . . . Ats . . . uh . . . It . . . Tab . . . er . . .”, the teenager trailed off and coughed, his green-tinged face turned yellow as the red of his cheeks mixed hues with his genetic heritage.
“What a tremendous color!” gasped one of the woman’s companions in clear joy. “How absolutely delightful!”
“Ha, yes, absolutely. So, Mister Ma Yenner Ab Ats Uh It Tab Er, is it? That seems like a tragically long name for such a strong and tall man of the wild.”
The two girls tittered and their eyes narrowed with intent upon his humiliation. The locals about him stopped again what they had been doing, this time to see what fun the girls were laying down on the dumb barbarian.
The youth cleared his throat, deciding backtracking would only embarrass him further. He puffed out his chest. “It’s Yenrab for short.” His head swam and he couldn’t really think right.
If only they weren’t so damn pretty.
“What do you think, ladies? Should I forgive him?” the leader asked, her left cheek dimpled as she grinned to her companions.
“I think maybe he should pay the entrance tax first!” the woman to her right exclaimed, her auburn hair glittered as it caught the sunrays.
“Well, Mr. Yenrab, do you have money with which”—she paused and raised a calloused yet stately finger—“to pay the entrance tax?” she asked, prodding him after each word.
Yenrab felt off-balance. He patted about his pouches and pockets, making a show of being an honorable being, but he knew he didn’t have anything to pay with. And yet—there, in one of his pouches, was a hard circular shape. He reached in and pulled out an object that shone white-gold in the summer light. The ladies gasped, while some of the onlookers whistled. How did that get in there?
He examined it closely in surprise. One side said: “Adventurer” The other said: “Destiny” The Great Bear, his jaws open and teeth sharp, was stamped into one side of the coin, while the Great Bear’s hairy behind was stamped onto the other. He bit his tongue to stop from breaking into a sacrilegious chuckle (Is it really sacreligious, though, to laugh at the jokes of a self-deprecating god?).
“Is this enough?” Yenrab asked the gawking trio. He hoped he was using this gift, clearly given him by his totem, the way it was intended. Between the book and this, he had a feeling he was being pushed ahead into something he didn’t have any understanding of. Not yet, at any rate. Still, it seemed like the proper place to use this new and particular item.
The lead woman cocked her head.
“Are you enough, Mr. Yenrab?”
Her companions copied her cocky pose and expression, backup dancers to the rhythm of her attitude. Some of the men around them laughed in a bawdy fashion while others whistled. Yenrab grunted, realization dawning within his brain.
“I’m famous, or so I’ve come to understand out in the wilds. I mean, I’m not like, you know, famous famous (the infamous famous squared), but people know of me. And it looks like I have tax enough to buy my way in here. I think, ya know, I’m more than enough. I might well be more than you all can handle,” Yenrab said, emphasizing the last with a tremendous smile, dirty canines exposed to the air.
Yenrab relaxed, his formerly taut body loosened as he took charge of the situation.
This is an encounter to be defeated, just like so many things in this world, Yenrab told himself, actually feeling excited to be in the midst of something he well understood. The way the men moved, chuckled and hooted about them made it well-known to him that this was something akin to the tribal tales and poetry slams during Autumn Festival. He wasn’t the quickest wit, but he could hold his own.
The woman smiled and shifted her hip to the side.
“I’m happy to hear you say that and I welcome you to the city, Mr. Yenrab of the tribes without. I’m the leader here and you can call me Garnan Chaine, or just call me Myrrh, as it is my first name and I don’t care for titles. You aren’t the first barbarian to enter our town, but you are the first to get my sense of humor, so I guess I like you.
Here’s the rules. No weapons in hand unless the bell tower rings. While you are here, you are part of our garrison. You help defend this place and I swear to the gods I’ll put a knife through that tough skin of yours if I see you running. If you want to join Gardit Chalna’s forces, I’ll give you a run-through and see if you are worth it. And if you are just passing through, well, I’ll buy you the first round.”
“I don’t drink, Garnan Myrrh Chaine or Myrrh. But I’d appreciate the company all the same. What happened to all those other guys who didn’t impress you?” he asked in wonder.
“I took their weapons until they left. Well, except for the one I married. That poor Otplainer (Icegarditian slang for foreigner or person not of Icegard) got sentenced to life. I make him run the bar, so don’t get handsy,” the woman advised. “Though I bet you could take him, you’d still have me to deal with when you got finished.”
“I appreciate the warning, Myrrh. Maybe if I’d come here a few years earlier . . .”
“A few years earlier and you’d have been twelve by the looks of things.” The woman laughed. “You are damn handsome and I appreciate the sight, but let’s be honest—you aren’t going to stay around and I’m a married woman.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Plus, I’ve got a mission it would seem, though the Great Bear hasn’t told me directly. Just a book, a coin and some disappearing older guy with a beer belly, so far, but all of those portents are telling me I need to get a job and go on an adventure. In order or at the same time, I’m not really sure.”
“Gods and quests, ruins and danger. Yeah, you do seem like the type to do such things, a god over your shoulder or not. Well, I don’t know of any ruins or legends about, but I can get you a guide job at the tavern and the rest, well, I suppose is prophecy.”
“Or destiny?” the young man asked as he pushed his platinum coin, the tax, into her hand.
“Whatever it is,” she said, staring in fascination at the gleaming bear anus of her coin with the word Destiny engraved above and below it. “I bet that no matter what you do in the next month or so, you’ll end up with an adventuring party. And,” she noted thoughtfully, looking away to a single cloud floating through the light-blue sky, “I bet at the start of it all, it is going to stink.”
The handsome and kindhearted monster man nodded in deep contemplation, smiling broadly. He joined Myrrh and her companions in heading off to the tavern, talking curiosities and pasts. The men of the town nodded and went back to their tasks, happy to be pioneers in this brave new world.
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