A lot of talk about orks recently (the proper spelling is “ork”; “orc” is how the elves spell it with their silly hard c’s) and so here’s a story inspired by a game I ran not too long ago. It has orks. I hope you like it.

 

* * *

 

This is a story about the city and the rules of the street. Those who are wise will listen and learn. 

Circles always come around.

And never invoke the wrath of the Baking Lady.

 

1.

On the third day of the second moon, Javis Tal and his friends went slumming into the lower city, looking to cause trouble. He was part of the House of Tal, his family’s heritage well-known in the upper city, but not well-respected. His father was a villain and his mother even worse, and it was known in the upper city that any who crossed the House of Tal paid the price in blood and shame.

So, when Javis Tal, the youngest son of the House of Tal, went down into the Lower City to cause trouble, he made sure his insignia was on display for all to see. He hid behind it like a shield, like a magic ward protecting him from all worry and bother. He could cause mischief and mayhem and have no fears of repercussions. 

It was just before moonrise when he and his louts came across the ork selling bread, biscuits and tarts from a cart. The Lower City called her “the Baking Lady” and while few knew her real name, she was well known for her treats. Even those in the Upper City knew her and came down to the Lower City’s dismal streets for her sumptuous delicacies. 

All too often, when the Upper City slummers came down, they told her, “I thought you were an elf.” 

She wouldn’t object. Instead, she retrieved a piece of paper, signed by the governor of the Lower City himself, and stamped with his seal. The certificate declared that she was an elf, and since it was signed by the governor of the Lower City himself, it was legal and true. Then, after satisfying their curiosity, she sold them something sweet to eat.

And just before the moonrise on the third day of the second moon, Javis Tal and his ruffians found the Baking Lady and decided to start some trouble.

“So, what do you have?” Javis Tal asked, approaching with a drunk swagger, his hand grasping a tankard he took from one of the local pubs. “Something sweet for me, Baking Lady?”

The Baking Lady was no fool. She sensed what they were up to. “Go away,” she said. “Or you’ll find the trouble you’re looking for.” Very slowly, she reached down under her cart and found her iron club, the one with metal studs hammered into the sides. 

“We’re not here for any of that,” said Javis Tal while his compatriots giggled behind him. “We just want to buy some of your treats!”

“I know what you want,” the Baking Lady said, her thick ork fingers tightening around her club. “And if you don’t take off right now, you’ll get more than that.”

One of Tal’s boys picked up a lemon tart and began munching on it. He looked at Tal and smiled, his mouth full of pastry. “Hey, this is really good.”

The next thing in his mouth was the Baking Lady’s hammer, smashing his front row of teeth from his head.

The fight was quick. Javis Tal drew his sword with the training of an Upper City nobleman and put three cuts across the Baking Lady’s face before she could parry with her hammer. She backed up and swung blind, catching only the cool evening air. The rest of Tal’s crew followed suit, drawing swords and knives. 

Through the blood and pain, the Baking Lady saw the blades and knew she was outnumbered. She ran, ducking down the alleyway, using the maze of twists and turns to hide herself from the slumming noble brats. They ran after her, but as soon as they saw her vanish, their interest vanished as well. They returned to her cart, tipped it over, kicked it, took the coins and paper she had hidden in a drawer and snatched up the pastries they wanted, laughing as they walked back to the gates that led to the Upper City.

As soon as they were gone, the Baking Lady returned to her cart. She took one look and made a curse. She picked it up, set it back on its wheels and started sorting things out.

A few moments later, two more figures approached, this time from the inner part of the Lower City. One was as tall as tall gets and the other was only half his size. As their shadows approached, the moonlight finally shining upon them, we see who they are.

The tall one was as wide as a cow, his arms as big as a horse’s legs. His head was shaved and his eyes small and narrow. His large nose was pierced as were his pointed ears and he wore a black beard that looked as if it could terrify a razor. He wore a leather jerkin and a chain shirt over that. In fact, it was many chain shirts, all bound together by leather to fit his wide chest. On his back was an axe taller than his companion and a bow strapped across his chest. A quiver of black-winged arrows as well. Tall boots and leather pants with a wide leather belt around his waist. On his right arm was a handmade piece of scale mail and metal plates, all kept together by leather straps. His hands were ungloved for no glove could fit them and when he flexed his fingers gripping a weapon, they always ripped whatever fabric or leather they were clothed in.

His companion had the same eyes and same nose, but his lips were wider and seemingly always fixed in a smile. He wore a long leather cloak with a tipped hood that slipped easily over his large, pointed ears and jet black hair that was cut to just under his chin. Unlike his companion, he was clean shaven and wore no piercings. Under that cloak was a leather jerkin made just loose enough for quick movement. It also hid a great abundance of daggers. He had a thin sword on his belt and behind his back, hidden under the cloak, was a small hand crossbow. He also had a leather pouch thrown over his shoulder, and it were a great number of little things. 

As they approached the Baking Lady’s cart, she spied them and gave a sigh. She knew their names.

“Go away,” she said. “Don’t bother me.”

The big one’s eyes narrowed with concern. He rushed to help pick up the remaining pastries and handed them to her. He had to kneel to reach that far down and when she saw him kneeling, the anger in heart melted, just a little. Not much, but just a little.

“Thank you, Thrud,” she said.

Scav approached more slowly, but picked up bits of the cart, putting them under his arm. “Slummers again?” he asked.

She started sorting out the ruined pastries, sighing with each one. “You need to ask?”

Thrud finished with the pastries and stood still while his brother handed the Baking Lady pieces of her cart. “Little boys who think they’re so bad. Sounds like they need a spanking.”

The Baking Lady’s eyes turned to anger again. “Oh, no,” she said. “You won’t go looking for them. I forbid it.”

“The watch won’t do it,” Scav said, eyeing one of the pastries. The one with cherries baked inside. “The Uppers will just throw some coin and it will all be over.”

“I don’t want any trouble coming back,” she said. “You hurt them, their daddy comes down looking for revenge, and he’ll have a writ for just such a purpose!”

Scav made a tic tic tic with his tongue. “My brother and me, we’d never think of bringing trouble to you, miss. Not never. No, nay, never even.”

The Baking Lady knew better. She was well aware of what these two could do, the kind of fires they could stoke. She shook her head again. “I forbid it.”

Scav smiled and tossed a copper on her wrecked cart, picking up the cherry pastry. “You ain’t got no permission to give or take,” he said. “We only follow the law of the streets, and that says, ‘What you do, it always comes back to you.’”

She snatched the cherry pastry from Scav’s hand and put it back on the cart. “If you do anything to cause trouble and get the Upper City coming down here, Scav Littlefoot, I’ll make certain you never taste another of my pastries.”

“Oh now, why’d you have to go and say that?” he snarled.

“It’s true. You go to the Upper City for my revenge and I’ll never sell you another cherry pastry.”

“No,” Scav said. “Not that.” He lowered his eyes, his mouth frowning. “Why’d you have to go and call me ‘Littlefoot.’”

The Baking Lady sighed, throwing her hands up. “It’s clear I can’t stop you from doing whatever you’re going to do, but if it comes back here, to the street, know that you’ll never…”

“Have another of your pastries,” he finished for her.

She picked up his copper and put it back in his hand. “You don’t want that pastry anyway. It’s been on the cobblestones. Now go, and don’t you cause no trouble.”

Scav gave her a bow. “I apologize, oh great Baking Lady.” He recovered from his bow. “And I promise you, that we’ll cause no trouble that will come back to you.”

The Baking Lady shook her head. “Go on. I have to start baking for tomorrow morning.”

He made that triple tic sound with his tongue again, and Scav and Thrud walked away, slowly vanishing into the slowly growing mist on the Lower City’s streets. The Baking Lady went back to sorting out the mess when she saw a copper on the cart.

And the cherry pastry was gone.

2.

Dannel Drill stood guard at the gate that lead from the Upper City to the Lower City. He was a handsome young lad, no more than eighteen years old. His family lived in the Upper City but was poor—at least to the Upper’s standards. He stood watch at the gate because it was a job none of the richer family’s children would take and it paid well. At least, it paid well enough to keep his family out of poverty. He knew about “the incident” that dropped half the city over two hundred yards, right into the bay, filling the streets with water, but he had never seen it. On his first day, Dannel’s boss took him to the edge and he looked over it for the first time. He got dizzy.

Down below, far down below, he saw the Lower City. Its tall buildings and canals. From there, he could also smell it. Then, his boss showed him “the flying seats.” These were small carriages held up by rope and pulleys (his boss called them “windlasses”) that lowered or raised the carriage. He showed him how to operate the machinery to make the carriages go up and down. Then, he put Dannel into the carriage and lowered him down. 

And that’s where Dannel Drill stood guard. Right in front of the carriage that would bring you up to the Upper City. There were seven such carriages. His charge was to guard one of them.

He had only stood at this post for a week, and already, he knew most of what he needed to know. For example, he always had a copper in his pocket. This is why.

On the second day, a little old woman with a wheeled cart pulled by an old bull came by on the other side of the canal, selling baked goods. With the bridge in his way, he couldn’t quite make her out. She stopped and within moments, she was swamped with customers. He watched as they gave her coins and she gave them pastries and tarts. When the customers were gone, she picked up the reigns of the bull and moved on.

The next day, she came by again. Still too far away for him to see clearly, she stopped and the customers came out to buy her goods. When they were done, she picked up the reigns and went on her way.

On the third day, the same thing, but this time, she saw him looking. When she picked up the reigns, she crossed the bridge and approached him. As she got closer, he saw the little old woman was not a woman at all, but an ork. Her smile was full of teeth and he took a step back. “I’m the watch of the gate,” he said, as if it was some kind of ward or spell to keep her away.

But it didn’t keep her away. “I know,” she said. She reached back into her cart and opened a box. Inside was a vanilla tart.

“This is for you,” she said, and gave it to him.

Dannel looked at the tart in her hand and hesitated before taking it. 

“Go on,” she said. “It isn’t poison.”

Dannel thought to himself, Well, why not, and took the tart. He bit into it and the pastry was crisp and crunched between his teeth. And the vanilla cream was sweet and smooth and tasted so delicious on his tongue. 

“Oh my,” he said.

The ork laughed. “I’m glad you like it.” She raised a finger. “But only the first one is free! Bring a copper next time.”

She picked up the reigns and went away. 

And that is why Dannel always carried a copper in his pocket.

3. 

This late at night, there was little travel between the Upps and the Low. Sure, there were the slummers—those who put on old, dark cloaks and went from the Upper City to the Lower City looking for the kinds of sights and joys the Upps couldn’t provide—but very little trade when from the Lows to the Upps. When it did, it took the long, twisting road carved out of the stone wall, housed in large wheeled carts, carrying official travel papers.

And that’s what you needed to get from the Lows to the Upps. Travel papers. Going the other way didn’t require anything, but if you wanted the elevator to “go noble,” you needed proof you were a citizen of the Upper City.

So when two orks came walking up to Dannel Drill in the middle of the night, the big one looking like menace and the little one all smiles, he started shaking in his boots. He reached for the rope that sounded a bell high above, hoping the sound would wake the guards. But as soon as he did, the little one raised his hands.

“No, hold that,” Scav said. “No need for no alarms, watchman. We ain’t comin’ with no intent.”

Dannel gripped his spear with shaking hands. “Stay back,” he said. “Show your papers or walk away.”

Scav kept walking forward, his palms up, his smile wide on his face. “Ain’t got no papers and we ain’t lookin’ to go to Uppstown.”

“Then what do you want?” Dannel could feel his belly quivering. He’d never been confronted like this before. He’d seen orks, but always at a distance. They never came to the elevators. They never had a reason to. 

“Be needin’ to ask you a question, we do,” Scav said, taking another cautious step forward. Krav stayed behind, his body like an ominous shadow.

“Ask it from there,” Dannel said, dropping the point of his spear at Scav. 

Scav nodded and stopped, just a few feet short of the point of the spear. “Don’t mean you no harm, watchman. Just need some skim.”

“Skim?”

“Knowin’. Need to know what you know.” Scav turned his wrist and a large silver coin appeared between his fingers. “There’s a drop in it for ya if ya can say what I needs to know.”

Dannel looked at the coin. “I get seven silver coins a week for my watch,” he said.

Scav twisted his wrist again and three silver coins appeared in his fingers. “How’s that?” he asked. “Two more for three. Take your girl to a nice place. Put it in your old sock. A pretty, shiny thing for just sloppin’ yer gob. That’s all.”

Dannel raised his chin a little. He could feel sweat on his brow. “What is it you need to know?” he asked.

“A bunch of slummin’ nobs came down from the Upper tonight. Probably used this gate. You seen ‘em?”

Dannel thought about the question. He did see a small group of nobles come down. One of them was wearing the seal of the House of Tal.

“Maybe,” Dannel said, his voice cracking, just a little.

“That means yes,” Scav said. He tossed one of the silver coins at Dannel. The watchman let the coin fall at his feet, jangling against the cobblestones. “I gots another query for ya. They come back yet?”

The House of Tal was rich, powerful and vindictive. Dannel thought about that as he considered how to answer the question. This ork was clever. Something he didn’t know an ork could be. He was taught orks were little more than mindless brutes, driven by passion and bloodlust. But this one…

“I be waitin’,” the ork said, making the silver coins shine in the moonlight.

“What do you want from them?” Dannel asked.

Scav shrugged. “My mother told me ‘Never answer a question with a question.’”

Damn clever ork. Damn clever. That meant dangerous. “I’m not going to tell you any more,” Dannel said. “You want to harm them. I won’t be responsible for that.”

“We ain’t no cudgelliers,” Scav said. “And we ain’t no floggers, neither. We just want to know if they’ve gone back up the lift.”

Dannel shook his head. “I’m not telling you any more.”

Scav tossed the coin. It landed on Dannel’s boot this time.

“That means they’re still down here and you’re keepin’ your bladder tight because we’re glassin’ for ‘em.”

Damn this ork! Damn him! Dannel reached for the alarm rope again but Scav took a step back, the last coin still in his fingers.

“Last question, watchman, before we skedaddle.”

“No more questions!” Dannel said, his hand tight around the rope. “Go, or I call the guards!”

Scav let the last coin slip between his fingers. “No need,” he said. “We’re good and gone.” He backed up to Thrud and tapped the big ork’s chest. “Ain’t we, brother?”

Thrud said nothing, just kept his eyes on Dannel. His narrow, dark eyes.

4.

Scav and Thrud sat on the edge of a building, looking down at the canal and the streets on either side. The door they watched lead to a tavern and brothel with a little wooden sign above it with a rooster and a rose. They waited.

After an hour or so, five young men stumbled out of the building, holding each other up. One of them pushed the other into the canal. They laughed and fished their friend out, but not before jeering and teasing him. 

“That wretched water stinks like sewers!” the young man said. 

“Now you stink like sewers,” another laughed, pushing his friend again, but this time, he merely fell over and did not land in the canal. 

But Scav and Thrud were not looking at the man who stunk like sewers nor the man who pushed him. They were looking at the young nob with a crest on his cloak. 

5. 

Javin Tal and his friends stumbled up to Dannel Drill, laughing and falling over each other. Dannel Drill stood still, trying not to shiver. He was wondering how he could leave this position and find another. His father would yell at him about being a coward and his mother would sit quietly, saying nothing, but looking at him. His mother’s disapproval was worse.

Javin Tal reached into his jerkin and produced papers with a seal and a signature. “I am Javin Tal,” he said, then burst into laughter. Finally, he finished. “House of Tal, son of Verin, citizen of the Upper City.” He then degenerated into laughter again, his friends keeping him from falling over.

But not well enough. Javin fell right onto Dannel and the watchman could smell vomit and ale on the nobleman’s breath. 

“Javin Tal, you are authorized to use the lift. Welcome back to the Upper City.” Dannel pulled the rope and he heard the bell ring above. Ropes and pulleys moved and the carriage slowly descended from above.

One of Tal’s gallant few said, “Do you remember how that ork ran? We scared the shit right out of her, didn’t we?”

The nobs laughed and Dannel remembered the two orks who visited him earlier that night. “Be needin’ to ask you a question, we do,” the smaller ork said.

“She won’t be healing those scars you gave her face any time soon!” another of them said, budging Javin Tall with his shoulder.

 “I gots another query for ya. They come back yet?”

He remembered the smile on the smaller ork’s face and… the horrible eyes of the big one. 

The tallest one, the one with curly red hair, smacked Javin’s back. “We should go back and make her run again!”

Javin stumbled forward… and let his stomach loose on Dannel’s tabard. The stink of it reached Dannel’s nose and he almost retched himself.

The nob boys all laughed and Javin laughed, too. He pointed at the watchman, a wet, sick smile on his face. “Oh, so sorry!” he said. “Please send the bill to my father!” And he laughed more.

Dannel looked at his tabard. He used his glove to scrape some of the sick away. It slopped and splattered to the cobblestone.

“I should have told them everything,” he muttered to himself.

Javin Tal stopped laughing. “What did you say?”

Dannel looked up, his mind now realizing what he said. “N-nothing.”

“Should have told who everything?” Javin Tal stepped forward, right into Dannel’s chest. He looked down at the boy and Dannel shook his head. 

“I didn’t say anything, sir. I promise.”

Dannel heard the sound of steel and saw a knife in Javin Tal’s hand. “You said, ‘I should have told them everything.’ I heard it.” He gestured with the knife to his boys behind him. “They heard it, too.”

Dannel backed up until he felt the cliff against his spine. There was nowhere left to go.

“I… I…”

“Yes,” Javin said. “Speak up.”

“There were two orks,” Dannel stammered. “They were looking for you.”

“Looking for us, were they?” Javin said. “Did they say why they were looking for us?”

“N-no,” Dannel said. “They… I didn’t tell them anything. I promise.”

“You already promised me a lie once, boy,” Javin said. He made another gesture with his knife. “Search his pockets.”

Javin’s boys moved forward and Dannel tried to run. They caught him, holding him by his tabard. The tall one with red hair shoved his hands into Dannel’s pockets and pulled the two silver coins out.

“So,” Javin said. “You didn’t tell them anything. But you have two coins in your pockets.” Javin gave a wicked grin. “How does that work out?”

“I didn’t tell them anything,” Dannel said. “They asked me and bribed me, but I didn’t say an—”

That’s as far as Dannel got. He felt the knife enter his belly. Felt Dannel twist it. Then, he fell to the cobblestones, his eyes and mouth wide open.

The carriage finally reached the ground and the nob crew stumbled in, laughing and slapping each other’s backs. Dannel watched them rise up. They were pointing down at him. Another one opened his mouth and let the evening’s festivities fall at Dannel. His aim was wide. It splashed beside him.

6.

Scav and Thrud saw her at the very last moment. They were sitting in a tavern, Scav playing a hand of red queens while Thrud stood nearby, watching for cheaters. So far, he didn’t need to break any fingers.

The Baking Lady rushed in with her iron club, screaming Scav’s name. Everyone got out of her way. Scav turned and dodged at the very last moment, as I said above, as her club smashed the wooden table in two, sending cards and coins everywhere.

“Scav!” she shouted. “You little gunga!”

Now, gunga is a very bad word in the orkish language. I’m not going to tell you what it means. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s a very bad word, indeed.

The Baking Lady took another swing at his head and he ducked, just in time. Lucky for him, because she would have taken his head clean off. Everyone knows what happens when the Baking Lady hits you with her club. She may be the Baking Lady, but she’s still an ork, and she knows how to use that club.

Thrud grabbed the end of the club as she swung it a second time. She turned and faced him.

“And you!” she shouted. She tried pulling the club away from Thrud, but he was having none of that. 

“Give me back my club so I can smash your brother’s head down into his shoulders!”

Thrud shook his head, maintaining his grip on the end of her club.

“Fine!” she said. “I’ll kill him with my bare hands!”

She let go of the club and chased after Scav. The small ork was hiding behind a table. 

“Now, why are you so mad at me?” Scav said. “I didn’t do no harm to you.”

“They took my baking license!” she shouted, grabbing the table and throwing it over her head. All the way over her head. She was an ork, after all.

Scav backed up to the wall, raising his hands. “Baking license? I didn’t have anything to…”

“The order came from the House of Tal!” she shouted. She grabbed his collars and shoved Scav against the wall. “From the House of Tal, Scav! What did you do?”

“N-nothing!” he managed to say through his clenched throat. “I promise! We didn’t do anything!”

The Baking Lady looked into Scav’s eyes. Then, keeping her grip on his collar, she looked at Thrud. “Is he telling the truth?”

Thrud nodded, holding her club with both hands in a kind of reverent way that only orks would notice.

She looked back at Scav and growled, showing her teeth. Scav just smiled. “I promise.” Then, he whispered the Baking Lady’s orkish name.

“I promise,” he said again.

The Baking Lady’s growl subsided and she let Scav’s collar go. He slid down the wall to the floor. 

“I have the red hate, Scav,” she said. And Scav knew what she meant. “I want my baking license back.”

Scav nodded. “I’ll fix it.”

“I’ll fix you!” she shouted and charged at him again, teeth and jaws open. 

Scav raised his hands again, averting his eyes. “I’ll fix it! We’ll fix it!”

“Go do that,” she said. “I hate going to the Upper City. Don’t make me do it, Scav. Because I will.”

“Throd and I will get your baking license back.”

She stormed over to Throd and held out her hand. Throd gave her the club. She gave him a small nod and he returned it. Then, she stormed out of the tavern.

7.

Scav knew the Baking Lady wasn’t really trying to hit him, because if she did, she would have hit him. The Baking Lady wasn’t always the Baking Lady. She learned how to use that club in places Scav never wanted to go. But she had to make a fuss because that’s one of the rules of the street: never invoke the wrath of the Baking Lady.

She also said, “I have the red hate.” I should tell you what that means.

For orks, everything is a circle. What you do comes back to you. Action means consent. If you rob someone, that’s telling Fate that it’s okay for someone to rob you. If you strike someone, that’s telling Fate that it’s okay for someone to strike you. Only do unto others what you’re willing to happen to you. That’s what orks mean when they talk about “Fate keeps the circles.” Everything you do comes back to you.

Now, if someone hurts you first, that means its okay to hurt them back. After all, if they’re okay with knocking out a few of your teeth, they should be okay with you doing the same to them. That’s why you have to be careful with how you treat an ork. Every action is a signal of consent.

And that’s why orkish jewelry is always in circles. It’s a reminder. 

When the Baking Lady said, “I have the red hate,” it meant, “I’m willing to hurt someone.” Now, the elves and humans and others in the tavern may not know what that meant, but Scav did. It meant he had to fix this problem before the Baking Lady used that club of hers and smashed someone’s head in. The Baking Lady didn’t want to smash Javin Tal’s head in because she didn’t want that circle coming back to her.

Granted, Javin Tal started all this. He smashed up her cart and he cut up her face, which means he had given permission for the Baking Lady to do the same, but you have to know something about the Baking Lady to understand why she didn’t want Scav and Thrud to close that circle.

See, the Baking Lady doesn’t like violence. She doesn’t like revenge. She’ll do it if she has to, but she won’t make it carry out. If she can move on without finishing the circle, that’s just fine by her. 

So, as far as she was concerned, the incident with the nob brats was over. But when the House of Tal pulled its strings to get her baking license revoked…

The red hate.

Walking down the Lower City streets, Scav thought out loud.

“She said red hate, big brother.”

Throd nodded.

“We can’t have the Baking Lady walk around with red hate.”

Throd shook his head.

“Got to fix this.”

Throd nodded.

That’s when Scav stopped. He realized they had been walking toward the gate to the Upper City and someone was whistling. Scav looked up and saw the watchman by the gate. He was deliberately not looking at them and whistling.

Scav stepped closer. “And what you got to whistle about?” Scav shouted at the guard.

The guard stopped whistling and his face turned red. He made a slight gesture with his hand. Scav repeated the gesture back at him and the guard made it again.

Scav and Thrud walked over. The guard looked up at Thrud and down at him and the guard said to Scav, “Are you the two orks who talked to Dannel?”

Thrud looked down at Scav and he shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Good,” the guard said. And he rang the bell.

8.

A few days later, Javin Tal and his friends came down the lift to the Lowers, laughing and half-drunk already. When the lift landed, they poked at the guard and went on their way into the Lower City.

They managed to hit two taverns before they came by the street where they met the Baker Lady. And there she was, in front of her little cart, counting the money she made that day.

“Hey!” Javin shouted. “It’s that pastry ork!”

The Baking Lady looked up. She dropped the coins and paper and ran into the alleyway behind her cart. Javin and his crew followed, chasing after her.

They followed her down the alleyway, then followed her to the left. The narrow streets only allowed one of them at a time, so Javin was in front, chasing as quickly as his drunken legs could. When she made another turn, he stumbled, fell and hit his chin on the cobblestones. He cursed, pushed himself back up and…

… he paused. Looked behind him.

There was no one. None of his friends. 

That’s when Thrud stepped out from the corner he just turned. He tossed a tall noble with red curly hair onto the cobblestones. A wide grin on his face that looked a lot like his brother’s.

“Well, well, well,” said a voice that made Javin spin. “All alone, ain’t ya?”

Javin saw a small ork with a brown cloak, a sword at his side. Out of instict, Javin said, “How does an ork get a license to carry a sword?”

Scav rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. “Coin, my nobber. Coin.” 

Both Scav and Thrud moved closer. Javin drew his sword. But he was drunk and his stance was poor. He could barely stand. Without his friends to help him, he stumbled, grasped the wall for balance.

“You’re about to learn a very valuable lesson about the streets, my nobber gunga,” Scav said. “That everything’s a circle. And what you do… comes back to you.”

Javin thrusted his blade at Scav but the thrust was wild. Scav dodged it easily. From behind, Thrud grabbed Javin around the arms and lifted him off his feet. He squeezed and Javin dropped his sword. Javin almost screamed.

Scav walked up to the noble, but his head only reached Javin’s chest what with Thrud holding him up like that.

“Now, you should know,” Scav said, “that this isn’t personal. This is just what happens when you come down to the street and kick around the Baking Lady.”

Scav took Javin’s hand in his hands and extended one of Javin’s fingers.

“Nobody invokes the wrath of the Baking Lady,” he said and squeezed his grip around Javin’s finger.

“Wait!” Javin screamed. “Wait! Stop! I’ll do whatever you want! I’ll do anything!”

“Ain’t this you’re dueling hand, Javin Tal of House Tal?” He kept his grip tight on Javin’s finger, but didn’t move it.

“Yes!” Javin screamed.

“And if you weren’t able to use it, you wouldn’t be able to duel, would you?”

“Yes!” Javin screamed again. His eyes were shut and watering. 

“So, you’d best make peace with the Baking Lady, shouldn’t you?”

“Yes!” Javin’s voice was breaking now and Scav was sure the nob would pass out from fear at any time, so he let go of Javin’s finger.

“This is what you’re going to do,” Scav said, reaching into his big bag of little things. He found a rolled up parchment and unrolled it. The scroll had a seal. The governor’s seal. “Look here,” Scav said.

Javin opened his eyes and saw the parchment. “H-how did you get that?”

Scav rubbed his fingers together again. “I’m surprised at you, Javin Tal of House Tal. Don’t you know how the city works?” He also procured a quil and a small jar of ink. He opened the jar, dipped the quil and put it in Javin’s hand.

“This is a rebuke of your claims against the Baking Lady,” he said. “And an apology.”

“Wh-hut?”

“You heard me. Now sign it.”

Javin blinked and something changed in his face. Pride started replacing fear. “No. I won’t.”

Scav shrugged. “All right. No more dueling for you.” He put down the parchment and the quil and grabbed Javin’s middle finger.

“NO!” Javin screamed. “I’ll sign it! I’ll sign it!”

“Good!” Scav said, his face all alight in joy. He gave Javin the quil and he put his signature on the parchment in a quick, unsteady hand.

“Thank you, Javin Tal of House Tal,” Scav said. He blew on the ink until it was dry, then he rolled up the parchment. “You can let him go.”

Thrud dropped the nob to his feet and Javin stumbled and fell on his backside. Scav kicked his sword to Thrud and the big ork broke it across his knee, tossing the pieces into the darkness of the alleyway. The two orks then started walking away.

“What… that’s it?” Javin said.

Scav stopped and turned. “That’s it. You’re finished, Javin Tal of House Tal.”

“For apologizing to an ork?” He laughed. Laughed so hard he coughed. “Nobody in the Upper City cares about that! You idiot! You’ve gained nothing!”

Scav and Throd just kept walking. Javin kept laughing.

9.

Eventually, he and his nob friends made it back to the lifts. They were bloodied and bruised, but at least their fingers weren’t broken. That’s what Javin was thinking. He was also thinking about how he was going to burn the entire Lower City down looking for that damn pastry ork and her two friends. He’d make examples of them, all right. He would.

When they reached the lift, Javin showed his papers. “Javin Tal of…”

“Javin Tal of House Tal,” the guard said. “You are under arrest.”

Javin shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

More guards appeared. Without his sword, Javin could do nothing but watch as they surrounded him and his friends with spears and crossbows.

“Under arrest? For what?”

The guard showed him a rolled up parchment with a seal. The governor’s seal. Through his drunk haze, he looked at it… and saw his signature at the bottom.

“Under arrest for kicking an ork? Are you joking? Do you know who I am? Do you know who my father is?”

“That is not what this charge reads,” the guard said. 

Javin looked again, squinting. And when he saw the words, he started to cry.

10.

You never see orks in the Upper City. You just don’t. They need permits to travel up the lifts and no governor is going to give an ork a permit to travel in the Upper City.

So when Dannel Drill awoke in his hospital bed as the nurse changed his bandages, he did not expect to see the Baking Lady standing a the stoop of his bed. He blinked and smiled, and she vanished.

He looked up at the nurse. “Is there someone at the foot of my bed?”

The nurse looked. “No. It’s the opium. For the pain. It’s making you see things.”

She finished his dressing, then turned and had a small box in her hand. “But someone sent you this.”

Dannel Drill took the box and opened it. Inside were three vanilla tarts.

For a Few Tarts

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