BNN: Conflicts of Conscience
Jun 28 2001 4:06PM
Guilhem marveled privately at the craftsmanship of the city, though his contempt for its creators prevented his showing it. Instead, he affected a sneer of disdain as he strode its streets, being careful to make no eye contact with anyone, and ignoring the stares that followed in his wake.
He would have liked to try out one of the keenly honed swords, or even one of the more exotic weapons displayed in the merchants' booths. But he had more pressing matters on his mind, and his role required him to use the more primitive weapons of the savages. The savages were loath to rip holes in the sides of mountains and poison the ground by smelting ore. Instead, they fashioned axes and spears out of rock and wood and bits of strong vine. They hunted for food and used everything they killed. When they broke down an encampment to move on, mere hours would remove every remaining trace that a tribe had once resided there.
Not much else caught his eye as he wound his way through the bazaar en route to his destination. He had made this journey many times, and the novelty of the city had long since worn off. Finally, he strode up the long stairs, sneering at the guards. In the courtyard, he washed his hands and feet in the center fountain, seemingly oblivious to the stares and small gasps generated by his horrible breach of protocol. Guilhem considered urinating on the cobblestones, but decided that would be too far across the line. As his status in this strange army was low and his position tenuous, Guilhem was hardly in a position to push their limits.
"You!" A strangely dressed human, one of Guilhem's new Master's lackeys, said, as if even addressing Guilhem was distasteful. "Clean that mess off." He tossed a dirty oil rag at Guilhem, who caught it without breaking his stare at the other man.
"These are my badges of honor and status," he replied. "I wear them as is my duty."
"That," retorted the lackey, "is food. Why those people insist on wearing their dinner I will never understand. But the Master says if you don't clean up before your audience, I am to have the palace guards wash you. Forcefully. Use the fountain, since you've already defiled it."
Guilhem glowered but didn't say another word as he turned to comply. It took only a few moments with the cloth to rub off the painted lines and swirls and glyphs. He felt naked without them, more naked than he expected he would. Perhaps it was his time spent with the so-called savages or his growing dislike for the minions of his new Master, but he found himself looking forward more and more to donning the paint.
That done, Guilhem followed the other man into the palace proper. He was left in a room, sumptuously decorated with wall hangings and thick carpeting and a small fortune in marble statues and brass lamps. He crossed his arms, shifted his weight to his heels, and stood in the center of the room, awaiting his audience. After a short delay that Guilhem was certain was caused simply by social custom, he was bade into the Master's chamber.
Guilhem could never get accustomed to the constant whirring and clicking and lights in this room. He hated it; it felt unworldly to him. A huge oak dining table was laid out with what must have passed for a feast for the Master's allies, but Guilhem felt no desire to eat. Guilhem truly hated his new role and often pondered if the payment was worth it.
His thoughts were quickly driven to other matters as the Master spoke to him, its grating voice assaulting Guilhem's ears. "Nice of you to respond so quickly to my summons."
Guilhem nodded his head but said nothing, fearing his voice might betray the disgust washing over him in waves.
"Eat while we talk," the Master said in its eternally gravelly voice as the whirring and clicking quickened in pace. Guilhem interpreted the statement as an order, and approached the table. Nothing looked particularly palatable, so he selected a whole cooked fish and proceeded to tear the skin from it. Guilhem discarded half of the fish skin onto an empty platter, and proceeded to peel away layers of the succulent fish flesh with his fingers and pop them into his mouth.
"Well, let us get on with it, then," the lackey said, scowling. "What have you to report?"
"Everything is well, m'lord," Guilhem replied, speaking to the Master and not to the lackey. "The Tribes are driving the greenskins from their camps. The land is bountiful and will make a good home for them."
The other human spoke before Guilhem could continue. "Have you any news from your advance scouts?"
"We have seen cities. They are too deep in greenskin territory for us to risk scouts yet. We have seen them from a distance. The architecture is obviously beyond the greenskin's capabilities. Whoever lives in them look to be as civilized and advanced as you, m'lord." Guilhem's expression remained carefully blank as he studied the other human's face for any reaction. In response, the lackey merely nodded, completely unsurprised by Guilhem's defiance.
The whirring and clicking stopped for a moment before the Master spoke again. "The tribes are to continue their attacks. Drive the greenskins from their homes. Take over their territory." As the Master ponderously issued orders, the lackey retrieved a scroll and a quill from its desk and began to mark it carefully.
Guilhem was dismissed and hurried to another, stranger portion of the palace, where the smell of magic was strong indeed. He presented his orders and was rewarded with a bag containing some jars of paint. Just as quickly, he was escorted to the palace gates, and began the journey back to the Clan. He repainted his body as soon as he left the city, and returned to the village. The last of the orcs would be driven out of the land, and maybe they would take out that other civilized race in the process. He had much work ahead.