Yikes. Late again. Maybe I should just change my update schedule to Tuesday/Saturday. We’ll see.
Despite the humans’ dancing and celebrations going on well into the night, the troupe was up early the next day, eating breakfast and chatting idly and nursing their hangovers. What townsfolk from Whiteriver had spent the night in the camp made their way back to the village proper, most of them looking a bit embarrassed or else trying not to be seen at all, and a few of the troupe members wandered into camp. They looked a lot more pleased with themselves than the Whiteriver folks did, I noticed.
I watched the humans run back and forth, eating a bowl of hot porridge and wishing that I had some meat I could roast over a spit. I laughed and shook my head at the thought. “Only been with the humans a few days, and already I’m wishing I could wander back into the woods and hunt some game. A few days of that, and I’d start wishing I had someone to talk to, or just to be around.”
Being around the humans was making me soft, I decided. It was okay for the moment, but if it got to be a problem, I’d have to go back to doing things my own way. Maybe Glimmerton would be different, I thought. I couldn’t imagine how many humans there would be in the space, but from the way I’d heard Enrico and the other members of the troupe describe cities, it reminded of the woods at their most wild. Just a mass of creatures all trying to go about their business, all preying and feeding and helping and depending on each other. I tried to imagine how many humans you would have to have in one place so that they didn’t all know each other and couldn’t.
Maybe being in a city would bring my edge back, if it were as wild as Enrico made it sound.
I spent most of the trip to Glimmerton walking alongside the caravan. Sometimes the littler children would ask to sit on my shoulders as we went along, and they were so insistent that I did it. Most of them didn’t weight much more than pack dead at its heaviest, so it wasn’t an issue. And it made them happy. I thought about Victoria and wondered why she never asked for rides. Maybe she was too old to want that kind of thing, or maybe the Fierans were just different.
We stopped for lunch alongside a stream, and as I was eating a pastry from Whiteriver and some smoked deer, Enrico and a few of the older members of the troupe came up to me. “We were discussing what your act would be,” Enrico said. “It’s been some time since we had a strongman act, and we don’t really have the equipment for it.”
“Iron weights and barbells. That sort of thing.”
“Maybe we can get them in the city,” an elderly woman suggested. “There should be a smith with something we can use.”
I snorted. “I don’t need iron to prove that I’m strong. Do cities not have rocks and logs?”
A man who looked to be about Enrico’s age laughed. “No, of course not. That’s why they’re cities.”
“We could play up a sort of ‘savage’ angle. It might be good to have breaking doors and hurling bricks and whatnot,” another said.
“I stand by my idea,” Enrico said, “that we should present him as a citizen of some far off land. A traveling warrior, or the errant scion of a noble family, or…” Enrico’s eyes went wide and he grinned. “No, a monk! A disciple of some mystic leader who was sent out on a pilgrimage to prove that their order is the best!”
“He’ll need a different outfit, then. Those rags are a mess.”
“I think it works. We’ll just say that he took a vow of poverty.”
“What about the face? People are going to want to see his face.”
They nodded. Behind my mask, I frowned. “I’m not showing anyone my face.”
“I’m not,” I said. And even though there wasn’t an edge to my voice, I could tell by their disappointed looks that they knew I wouldn’t.
“That’s fine,” Enrico said. He smiled. “It will be fine. Just think, it adds to the mystique!”
“I suppose… I suppose we could make up something to go along with the mask.”
“It’s a matter of honor. So long as he can cover himself up, he’s not a man, but a living symbol of their god. If he’s ever defeated, then he isn’t fit to be that symbol, and he has to take it off.”
“Oh, that’s good! We can tell people that if they can prove that they’re stronger than him, they can unmask him!”
“I’m not showing anyone my face,” I said, this time with steel in my voice.
“Of course not,” Enrico said. “Of course not. It will never even come up because you will never lose, yes?” He grinned, and despite myself, I chuckled.
They spoke a bit more about my attire, about finding a suitable spot in the city to use as a fighting ring, about how they would present me, but none of that really interested me. I was excited again, excited to see all that this city had to offer me. As the troupe leaders excused themselves, Enrico lingered a bit longer before turning to me with an unusually serious look on his face. “Tusk, I must ask you something.”
“What is it?”
“Why are you so intent on no one in the city seeing your face?”
“It’s not the city, it’s everbody. I don’t want anyone seeing my face.”
“But why not?”
“It doesn’t go well.”
Enrico frowned. “Are you deformed?”
“It’s alright if you are. My people are very accepting. We’ve seen all sorts of strange things in our travels. We won’t be cruel to you, I promise.”
“That’s not it.”
I was losing my patience with this. I tried to think of a way to end the conversation as quickly as possible. “I’m a hideous green monster with sharp fangs,” I said. “Damn near everyone that’s ever seen me has looked at me as if I were going to eat their children, and they usually act like it.”
Enrico’s eyes narrowed. He gave me that same appraising look he seemed so fond of using, as if he couldn’t decide if there were any truth in what I was saying or if I was trying to deliberately upset him. Finally, he sighed and shook his head. “If you don’t wish to tell me, Tusk, that’s fine. I’ll respect your wishes.”
I growled. Talking with humans was so damn difficult sometimes. It’s like a certain amount of sneakiness and deception just comes naturally to them and they can’t imagine a world where not everyone is lying about everything.
I pulled the wrapping off my face and pulled the hood back from over my head. Enrico’s eyes went wide. I know what I look like. I saw my reflection once in a the clear waters of a still pond. No hair atop my head or on my face. A wide, heavy jaw. A mouth full of fangs. A stubby, upturned nose and coal black eyes.
“What… what are you?” Enrico said. To his credit, he didn’t back away. Most humans start backing away without realizing it, or else putting up their hands. Or both.
“My master called me Ork. It doesn’t mean anything to me, but I guess that’s what I am.”
“Are you… are you…”
“What I am,” I said, “is itching to see this Glimmerton you lot have been going on about for days now. I want some good ale and a good fight. Beyond that, I ain’t looking to hurt you or anyone else. Not unless you give me a reason to.”
“The children,” Enrico began. He cleared his throat and stood up straight and puffed out his chest, like he was trying to make himself bigger. “The children seem to like you well enough. My people seem to like you well enough.”
“I don’t have any problems with humans, Enrico. Big or small, young or old, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t have any problems with anyone that doesn’t have any problems with me.”
He nodded. “I think that perhaps you should keep your mask on. As you were. I don’t want there to be any problems either, and I can’t anticipate how everyone will react to your… appearance.”
I snorted. “You think maybe I know whether or not keeping the mask on is a good idea?”
I grinned. “Apologies accepted.”
Enrico turned to leave, but he stopped halfway and looked at me one last time. I couldn’t tell if he was looking me in the eyes or trying to see how many of my features he could make out from a distance. “I think it’d be best,” he said, “if you didn’t find yourself unmasked in Glimmerton. City folk aren’t country folk aren’t traveling folk.” And with that, he walked back to the rest of the caravan and left me alone to finish my meal.