The Stone Hand

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Bogakh the Stone Hand
by Anonymous

An Orc follows to the death.

Those were the words Bogakh the Stone Hand vowed when I questioned his commitment. The last two men who had the misfortune of following me both felt the swift judgment of Arkay. Casimir the Brave died defending me from a Forsworn ambush. His replacement, Sorek the Sellsword, fought valiantly against a Draugr lord, only to be done in by a wolf as the two of us, exhausted from battle, attempted to set up camp in the hills. I may have been anointed blood-kin and bested his chief in fisticuffs, but I wanted to be sure Bogakh knew what he was getting into. My obsession with hoarding, combined with my pitiful constitution, regulated me to a support role. It would be up to him to hold the line.

Bogakh relished the opportunity. His thirst for blood and brawl were only surpassed by his bombastic proclamations of Orc toughness. As we headed east for Rorikstead, staying close to the river, he bombarded me with tales of heroism, not just his heroism, but the heroism of all Orcs. The Orc was a superior warrior, he claimed, not from strength of body (although it helps) but strength of mind. It’s simple, really. Humans fear death. Orcs do not.

Halfway through our journey we came across Gloomreach Cave, tucked against the rock near a grove of withered trees. The cave had been marked by Falmer. At the entrance stood a decorative assembly of human bones, like giant blue butterflies on a stick. Pretty if it weren’t so disturbing. The sophistication and macabre of their art tells you everything you need to know about the species. It was time to clear the hive. Bogakh grunted in agreement.

His stone hand spoke as loudly as his mouth, reverberating through the cavern as it split open Falmer skulls. He charged blindly on ahead as I harvested Chaurus eggs and admired the tassels of luminous blue that freckled the ceiling. The battle and lights were so intoxicating that neither of us saw how porous the inner hive was, the ground a literal honeycomb of death by falling. Only the real drop was further on ahead. A narrow walkway spiraling around a bottomless abyss. Bogakh didn’t see it. All he saw was the coin of greenish, phosphorescent light on the face of a Falmer as it crept up from below. Bogakh did what he always did. He charged. Right toward the ledge.

I nocked an arrow, hastily trying to shoot Bogakh in the leg, save him from his own aggression. Only my clumsy hands betrayed me, and the Orc stampeded forward toward the enemy. As I fumbled my bow, I was suddenly interrupted by the plangent bell of metal on metal. It was a block! A beautiful, wonderful piece of music! As I looked up, I saw that my assumption was true. The Falmer had blocked Bogakh’s blow, and it was the block that killed him and saved my companion. The redounding force had actually pushed the Orc back to safety. Had Bogakh’s blow struck, I imagine they both would have careened over the ledge, and I would have been forced to mourn three followers in as many days.

Dragging my sack of Falmer bows, arrows, swords and shields, I stumbled over to Bogakh and patted him on the shoulder, lighting a new torch to illuminate the darkness. The Falmer had fallen with a mighty thud, yet his corpse remained pristine. As I looted it, I fully expected Bogakh to mock my late arrival, or weave this into another tale of Orc bravery at humanity’s expense. Yet the mighty Orc never turned to me. Gone were all the taunts and swagger. Borgakh never moved, just kept his eyes fixated on the drop below.

He remained silent as we trundled down the slow curve to the bottom. Eventually we found a passageway that led back to the entrance. All that needed to be done was to drop down from a single, ten foot ledge. I threw down my sack of junk and treasure and leapt down after it. Dawn had come, and the ivory tree that stood by the entrance was flanked by four shafts of light. The scene was breathtaking enough that even an Orc might appreciate its ordinary beauty, yet when I turned to Bogakh I found him frozen on the ledge. Looking not at the scenery, but straight down. It was then that I noticed his hands. The Stone Hands were trembling.

I tried everything. I went back up the ledge and tried pushing him, striking him, and when my arms tired I tried bruising his fragile ego. He never budged. An Orc follows to the death, he boasted, but the only thing dead was his nerves.

From time to time I would return to the cave to check in on my old companion. My old friend. I considered telling his brethren at Dushnikh Yal he died in battle, but I still hold out hope he will conquer his fear and spin it into another harrowing tale. Yet my fear is that many years and many followers later, Bogakh the Cowardly will still be waiting near the entrance of Gloomreach Cavern, unable to jump down from the ledge, a monument to everything an Orc should not be.

An Orc who dare not follow.

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