Drip, drip. Yellow droplets cascaded down Shekle’s pant legs and pooled upon the dusty floor. The juniper barrels’ girth cloaked him from sight. He hoped their cloying stench would cloak the smell of terrified gnome piss as well.
Thwack. The orc captain struck Shekle’s mentor yet again. This blow broke the jaw. Duhkit mumbled a cry for help, but Shekle could not risk revealing himself. Not even to save the gnomish prince of thieves.
Shekle trembled at his powerlessness. Vainly, he tried to stem another golden torrent’s tide. He leaned against the barrel, crossed one leg over the other and called to mind Brook Land, his lost home village. He pictured the idyllic sylvan glade, the intricate wood cabins. For a moment, he thought he heard the babble of their famous brook. Alack! It was merely fear leaving his body, one steaming drop at a time.
Amidst the dampness, Shekle laid his head on the barrel’s rusty iron strip. His homeland had been seized by orcs. If he remained craven, the orcs would take his mentor as well. Duhkit was silent as the orcs shackled him. The captain shouted to his subordinates, “To the dungeon with him! The master will find him most useful as a slave.”
This was his last chance. Shekle summoned the memory of all that Duhkit had taught him. Without a homeland, the forest gnomes had to learn resourcefulness. Stalk, steal, assassinate for the good of the clan. A true rogue hides to gain tactical advantage, not to indulge in cravenness.
Shekle’s heart felt like it was made of lead. He let out a sigh and leapt from behind the barrels, swinging his rapier and emitting a shrill plaint. Whoosh, though he missed the closest orc, he darted between another’s legs and came upon the captain. Swish, swish, the weapon ripped the air, but missed its target.
“Bwahaha! A baby gnomling wants to play at swords.” The orc captain palmed Shekle’s head and lifted him to eye-level. “Run, little gnomling. Tell your brethren that the stalemate is over. A higher power now commands the orcs, and we will hunt your kind to the last burrow.”
With one fluid motion, the orc cast Shekle and his rapier to the ground like a pair of loaded dice. “This isn’t over,” said Shekle, but he wasn’t sure if he really believed that. As he was about to turn and run, he saw Duhkit’s face. The furled brow, the searing gaze. Shekle vowed to train, pillage, and explore until he had the means to rescue his mentor. That is, assuming he could find where the orcs had taken him, and if there would be anything left of Duhkit to save.