They were the fodder of the infantry, the little boots, the walking dead. Eleven bang bangs, through and through, but guys with almost no hope of going back home.
Maybe the infantry was filled with the illiterate, criminals, the roughened variety. And maybe these men were all of that and more, but they were also cursed with being small.
The infantry is supposed to fight anything, drink every drop of booze, stick their dicks in wall sockets not contemplate the cosmos.
The future was a concept best left to better minds. The now is all that mattered. The now and the then.
To the grunt the smaller man made sense. They could fit and fight in tight corners.
It was the now, they were tools to use with no reason to preserve.
The tunnel rats were the little guys, the ones responsible for scrambling into tight spots, the dark areas on the map, the hot cramped going to die places. The smart ones knew that they only had to go so far. Out of sight out of mind, but even then it was better to keep going. It was better to find something. It was better to be needed and valued and not digging holes and burning shit and piss.
Be a hero and go home quicker. Do your job and avoid being punished. Find something and maybe your buddy doesn’t die tomorrow.
They worked with rangers. They bumped shoulders with special forces. They rode in choppers and got dumped way out. Their only weapons were close quarter orientated. In a firefight in the jungle they were useless. They were better in a fight against shadows and in candle light. Flickering, dim light, they fought the dark. They fought by instinct and accident.
Their enemy had made homes underground. They killed with spears and snakes and poisoned gas.
It was a curse to be a smaller man. To be told now, go under the ground, be a hero.
Nobody wants to be a hero. Nobody is supposed to volunteer. Nobody is born smaller than the rest hoping to be forced into the dark to kill other humans while looking them in the eyes. Seeing the blood run out. See the look of pain and fear.
It changes the soul. It places a burden on the heart. It wasn’t the cold dispassionate firing over a berm, or around a corner. It was the inches from death, I got you before you could get me, type fight.
It lived in dreams. It survived long after peace was granted and the war ended. It was the nightmare that kept returning over and over again.
It was a fight that never got won. That never got rewarded. It took guts to go to sleep and face it again each night. Maybe it was worse the nights it wouldn’t happen. The hope that they might be cured. Maybe weeks would go by, but something always happened. Some trigger. Some reminder they were the little guy and wham they would be back in that tunnel ready to kill or be killed.
With the morning sun just touching the Eastern horizon the two men on guard wake the rest of their fellows. They break camp after spending the night not two miles from their target.
Their target is known as the pig-man. All twenty-seven feet tall and a thousand stone of him. Snout nose, squiggly tail and flaps of pink flesh on the sides of his head that if dried could make dogs go wild. He walks on two legs and swings fallen trees as weapons. When in rampage his grunting squeal carries for miles.
He has murdered.
He has stolen.
He is a monster once known as a normal sized baker named Thomas Loaf. The baker is from Central City. He had a shop near the keep. His family owned and ran it for many generations. His wife does the work now. Not many people even know Thomas disappeared. His wife is good at keeping secrets. Mainly because she has a litter of children to feed and a business to run and just assumed the lout is hidden away somewhere drunk off ale. She surmises he will be back and she is ready with the rolling pin to abuse the notion out of him that such behavior will be tolerated again.
The baker’s shop is in the land of Bananlor.
Bananlor is glacier formed drumlin hills rumpling a green landscape. Where thick patches of forests are interrupted by a few lazy tributaries flowing into the Deep River that separates it from the neighboring Kingdom to the East. The Great Water lies on the West and runs along the south creating a rocky coastline with huge clashing waves. The threat of Kraken is real there. Only the bravest call the coast home. The Deep Mountains hollowed out by dwarves haunt the northern landscape.
Rain is common.
The sky is usually white with clouds dotted with a sparse orb that passes for the sun. The temperature is unfair, but it hardly ever snows.
Besides the occasional invasion by sea beasts, monsters are rare.
However the pig-man did not invade, he was instead made with the magic of a Half-orc magician named Zankul.
The edict to kill or capture was handed down by the king. The proclamation was hung on every vertical flat surface. It relieved the monarchy of any future responsibilities. He had parties to plan and banquets to attend and maidens to ravish.
In the end Four boots, one knight and an officer came to deal with the pig-man accompanied by a bard. They decamped quickly, packing their rolls and loading what loose provision were about back up into their saddlebags.
“Tether the horses, we go in on foot,” says their leader a knight named Ser Geon.
The enlisted do as commanded and quickly get the horses tied down before getting into an easy formation for the march.
Taking up the rear of the column are three brothers from the Smithies brood. He had eight children and not enough room at the forge for all of them to apprentice. These three are his youngest, still freckled with Red hair and no need to shave. They are good with a polearm, but still novices when it comes to battle. Naturals with metal they do some of the repair work around the barracks and have a reputation of fighting well and always having eachothers back.
Next is Jem the dandy. He is no warrior. He is a song singer and under his steels wears silks and padding. His only weapon is a lute. He enjoys the fine life in Bananlor, little of it there is. He came on this little adventure because he fears the few stories he has of bravery might be getting a bit long in the tooth and needs fresh fodder for tales if he wants to continue regaling his audiences.
Fifth in line is Greck, he was raised on a pig farm and is a large man with a huge bulbous belly and a thick white scar running the length on the right side of his face. His right eye is dead white color and his mouth hangs slightly ajar where the scar runs through it. He has ideas involving a stew when the massacre is finished.
Lieutenant Hostetler has already warned him three times, “there will be no eating of the pig-man.”
It does not seem Greck cares though, he has his mind set and talked about the feast until sleep took him last night.
The lieutenant is remiss to admit the description the man used for the barbeque had his stomach bubbling with hunger.
Hostetler was reluctant to go on this mission. The garrison commander thought it best to have an officer present, so here he is. The lanky soldier watched in disgust as he was ordered to go between mouthfuls of roasted squab. Not that he is averse to eating, more that a closed mouth while chewing is considered polite, something his commander knows little about. Hostetler was not a knight, yet. His thinking was maybe with just enough valor and bravery he might one day stand in front of the king and have the regal sword pressed to his shoulder. Even as an officer he was no more than common rabble. He wants to be socially better not just a higher rank. Anyone can be an officer with enough time in service and no blemishes on their record. The only problem is to attain valor one must face battle and the idea of death doesn’t fit well with the lieutenant. He has his doubts about the Gods. The world seems to work differently then the priests, clerics and paladins insist it does.
The group marches hard through the thick forests just south of the Mountains in the North. There is a chill to the wet air, but even that does not ward off the pig-man’s great stench of rotting meat mixed with eye watering bacteria and fermenting yeast. They smell him far before laying eyes on the source.
Even through the misty rain, the men wish they could cover their noses for relief. Jem is the lone hold out, but only because under his Skull visor he keeps a sack of fresh rose petals.
Ser Geon holds up a fist to halt the column. He is a man with jiggly jowls, a shock of grey stubble across his scalp and face and a stoic reputation for doing what needs to be done.
He has no plan to fight the pig-man. “Tis not his fault he got magicked,” he told the men as he headed out the night before with a large cart hitched to his horse. On the cart sat twenty barrels of good dwarven whisky infused with a sleeping draught that he had the alchemist brew up. He was promised it was enough to knock out an army for days. He rode the cart close enough to get the transmogrified man’s attention before uncorking his cargo. Once the barrels were cracked he unhitched his mount from the cart and with hope the bait will be took, raced back to camp for a bit of rest before morning.
The soldiers all wear the steels that while in garrison shine with the brilliant sparkle of polished metal, but with every footfall across the Pigman’s burrow they become streaked with cold muddy water of which the contents can only be guessed. It’s hard to ignore the smells of waste and decomposition and imagine it is simply mud they traipse across.
The knight’s shield is strapped to his back and his long sword is sheathed.
Even with the old warrior’s relaxed posture the four infantrymen hold their polearms at the ready.
Hostetler’s belief is that an officer’s weapon is best left sheathed, but today wields a wicked morning-star with two shaking fists. Normally the weapon would be used to motivate unwilling enlisted. With every foot step closer to the snoring beast making his heart thump hard against his ribs, he hopes to only hold it and not swing it.
Jem holds his lute more for comfort then anything. His fingers are poised to strike a note, but he only holds them there for fear music in fact does not sooth the savage beast. He is willing to try as a last resort though.
They pass the empty cart.
It would appear the trap was took.
The pig-man snores bubbles into the muck surrounded by the empty barrels.
Ser Geon approaches closer than any of the other men would have dared and pokes the beast with the tip of his solaret.
The pig-man stirs, but does not wake.
The old knight nods and the next part of his plan is implemented.
A large tarp is taken off the nearby cart by one of the Smithie kids. A corner each is grabbed by the enlisted and pulled over the body of the wasted pig-man. His head is shoved through a hole in the middle while huge black smith made shackles are fixed around his waist and onto his wrists then bolted closed.
“We will deal with loading him onto the cart afterwards,’ Says Ser Geon. ‘The job is nearly done. The Pig-man will be taken back to town alive, but later. Then what is anyone’s guess. Maybe a cure. Maybe he could be used somehow, but,’ Ser Geon surmises, ‘he might just have to be put down eventually anyway”.
Greck is disappointed, “probably best to do it now, right? What’s the point in letting him suffer?”
The knight answers tersely, “the humanity of the situation should dissuade otherwise. There is always a chance he can be saved.’ he punctuates the retort with a steely look. ‘besides the real punishment will be levied against the half-orc half-human magician, Zankul.”
The men shift about uncomfortably.
Hostetler volunteers, “Not much is known about the half-orc other then his mother was a full orc and many question how he got his human blood.”
“Whoever the father is, he never came forward to claim the boy,” Ser Geon replies.
“Drink,’ Greck states. It’s the common hypothesis, ‘lots and lots of drink, mixed with a wee bit of loneliness”.
The men shudder imagining what a deed like that would be like.
“Some think the orc might have magicked herself with child,” says the oldest Smithie boy.
Ser Geon replies, “whoever gave her the seed probably did not do it willingly and if they remember will take that secret to the grave. Whatever the truth, people will believe the easiest excuse for their minds to comprehend and regardless the actual answer, it is now histories problem, because today, Zankul, will answer for his crimes.”
The knight turns and walks further North the party following.
The half-orc lives in a hollowed out old growth oaktree not far from the pig-man.
The pig-man was his security, to do what, is anyone’s guess.
Ser Geon intends to find out.
The squad sloshes through the muck and arrives at a well disguised door. Two of the Smithies beat the door with their shoulders until it caves in exposing a set of rough stone stairs leading deep into the ground. The lair smells of dirt and sulphur and other things that the mind easily associates with magic.
Greck lights a torch and hands it to Ser Geon.
As they enter the tree the fire tipped stick sparkles in the cold air.
Their breath blows out in clouds of steam. Under their armor skin tightens with fear and feet beg to turn and run the other way. Whether the air is thick with warding spells doesn’t matter because Ser Geon pushes on down the steps and this motivates all who follow.
The notched gradation leads them to a large carved out area. Roots hang from the ceiling bright with lit torches and tables covered in bubbling concoctions and vials of many different colored liquids. The remains of man and animal lay about, some prepared for decoration, others freely rotting.
The cold the air is strangely antiseptic.
Soldiers are surprising dense when it comes to sneaking about especially when the clink of their spurs against the cobbled stone flooring have announced their presence.
Zankul stands across the room. He holds a thick staff in bone thin hands. On the top of the staff is a crystal ball. The orb glows blue.
Under the glow Zankul is a slight creature with a sickly green coloring. His lips are black and his eyes are yellow around bright azure irises. He wears red robes stained black with dirt around the fringe brushing the floor. His head is crowned with a thick mane of white hair. And his face is decorated with long white tendrils of straight hair that that originate at the corners of his mouth and grow downward past his clean-shaven lips and chin to rest on his skinny chest.
His face is scrunched in a scowl.
Ser Geon prefers a straight fight to a sneak attack any day and tosses his torch at the magician before rushing forward.
The half orc flinches.
His shield is quickly taken from his back and placed on his left arm and held in front of him at the the ready, Behind it he holds his sword.
The other soldiers are slow in their attack, but it doesn’t matter.
Zankul has time to say one spell before Ser Geon’s sword cleaves him in half, but that one spell dooms him.
But he has no time to be doomed right now. He will have to deal with that later.
He wipes the orcs blood off on his own dirty robes and orders, “pack any books or papers. Valuables give to me,” as he slices through muscle and bone with his razor sharp blade to remove the two pieces of the Magician’s head. He sacks it up and removes the staff from the dead magicians grip the ball on top now dull.
Once burdened with several sacks of material they labor back up to the surface. Ser Geon holds on tight to the staff as the group enters a stiff rain that spills in great drops falling against the mud making things worse for travel.
The mud sucks at their boots, which fill quickly with water. Pulling them free with each footstep is exhausting. Every inch forward is an effort. Their loud squelching is obvious yet swallowed by the monstrous snores still emanating from the pig-man. He wallows in his mess, his great eyes squeezed shut in drucken contentment.
The knights ignore the twenty or so empty whisky casks which lay half sunk in the muck.
“Get the horses,” Geon orders and the two of the smithies run off do so.
Once reunited with their mounts they throw several ropes over a giant oak tree branch thirty feet up and hitch them to the pigman. Secured to the horses they lift the giant burden onto the cart.
The creature belches in response and the air is filled with tooth decay and wheat mash.
The Wagon is pulled through the muck and occasionally gets stuck making the soldiers have to climb down off their steeds and give the giant cart a push.
Their horses are not meant to pull, they are meant to face battle, but they manage.
The wagon tips dangerously a couple times, but does not topple.
The Great Pig laughs in a drunken roar. The sound is a snort and chuckle. Its grotesque. The horses whinny in fright. But the creature is merely dreaming.
It takes the rest of the day to reach Central City. The Keep’s gates open for them. A fanfare of trumpets announce their return. The king greets them on his balcony. He waves a silk handkerchief at them from the great height and smiles down.
Ser Geon‘s last effort is climbing down from his steed and going to one knee in a deep bow to his liege.
Then he dies.
Visor over his face both hands gripping the magician’s staff to support his weight.
The rumors did not take long to develop.
The one that stuck and became legend was that the magician’s last conjure was to turn the knights heart from human to mouse.
It’s a testament to the man’s will he even managed the killing blow let alone make it back to the castle keep with the bagged half-orcs head clutched in the bag in his fist.