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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seven

I remember the first time I saw him. I was boy of ten at the time, living on my father’s homestead. I don’t remember much of my life before then; we left the city I was born in for the untamed, wild west for the opportunity to better our lives. I remember traveling through deserts and parries on wagon trains, and watching as my father and the other men from the wagon train worked to build the ranches we would all live in. We’d lived there for nearly two years when he arrived.

I was outside playing at the time, chasing after the dog, I think. I looked up and saw a figure creating the hill. Even at that distance, I could tell he was a big man, broad of shoulder and muscular. He was wearing boots, denim a poncho and a large cowboy hat that shadowed most of his face. When he looked up, though, I could see his red eyes, and I knew then that he wasn’t human. I ran back to the ranch, yelling for my Pa.

“What is it, Jakob?” my Pa said as he came out.

“An orc!” I cried, running behind him. I pointed towards the hill. Pa went inside and got his shotgun, told me to stay put, and went to greet the stranger.

Of course, I ignored him. I watched as Pa ran up and raised his gun, taking aim at the man. I ran to hid behind one of the trees at the bottom of the hill and watch. Almost as soon as Pa got there with the gun raised, the man stopped, raising his arms.

“Hold,” the stranger said. I could see the large canine teeth projecting out of the bottom jaw. He had the look of an orc, but not the gray skin Pa always told me they had. He had the olive skin of a southerner. And despite the red coloration, his eyes looked normal. His voice was gravelly, and I thrilled to hear him talk. “I ain’t here to harm anyone.”

“Good,” Pa said. “I don’t want to have to kill you. Mind explaining what you’re doing on my land?”

“I didn’t realize I was on anyone’s land,” he said. “I was just trying to find Coyote Mesa. I’m looking for work, and I hear they’re looking for workers.”

Coyote Mesa was miles away. This man was way of course.

“You should have been following the train tracks,” Pa said. “This is Green Valley.”

Seven grunted. He looked tired them. Pa lowered his gun.

“How long you been walking?” he asked.

“About a week,” Seven said. “My horse died.”

Pa seemed to be thinking something over. It was then I noticed that the man had a pair of saddlebags thrown over his shoulder. This man had been walking the hills for a week with no way of knowing where he was going. That was pretty impressive as far as I was concerned. Suddenly, Pa nodded.

“Come on in,” he said, lowering the shotgun fully. “Jakob!”

I came out from behind the tree. Pa didn’t even look. He knew I was there, probably had known the whole time.

“Go tell your ma that we’ll have a guest for dinner tonight,” he said.

“Thank you,” the stranger said. “I can’t pay much…”

“Never you mind that,” Pa said, cutting him off. “I’m Cozar Silverblade, and this is my son, Jakob. You said your looking for work? Ever thought of being a farm hand? We need some help around here.”

The orc-man looked Pa up and down, and gave a bear hint of a smile. Then nodded and shook Pa’s extended hand.

“The name is Seven,” he said. I thought it an odd name at the time, but Pa didn’t seem to notice, and the stranger didn’t offer an explanation. He started to follow Pa down the hill. Pa glared at me, and I ran off to tell mom. I came back a few moments later as the two reached the front porch.

“Ma said we should put him up in the guest room for now,” I said.

“Go on and show him the way,” Pa said.

I lead the big man down the outside of the house to the smaller house that was right next-door. This was the old place we lived in before the full house was built, but now we used it for farm hands and guests. I opened the door and handed the key to Seven. He nodded, grunted and moved in. I stood by the door and watched.

He lifted off the saddlebags, and I got a good look at his belt as the dusty poncho came up. He had on two belts, a normal one for his pants, and a large leather belt that held two large pistols in them. I started with open eyes. I heard him grunt again, and saw that he was watching me.

“You a gunslinger, mister?” I asked.

He just grunted again. Then, he pulled out one of the guns and held it up. I walked over to inspect it. Its handle was so big that my small hands couldn’t fit around it. I guessed that even Pa would have a hard time holding it. Other than it’s size, though, it looked like the six shooters I read about in the dime novels that Ma bought for me despite Pa’s protests.

“You know what this thing does, kid?” he said to me, and I looked him in the eyes. I got the impression that those eyes didn’t see a lot of joy. I only nodded in response.

“I doubt it,” he said. “These ain’t toys, boy, and they ain’t no way to earn glory. They’re tools, weapons that are designed for one thing only. To kill a man. And there ain’t no glory in killing a man. Even if that man’s an orc.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” my Pa said from the door, and I jumped to turn and look at him. “Dinner’s ready when you two are. My wife and I would appreciate it if you keep those in your room while you’re here.”

The orc only grunted again, nodded, and took of the gun belt. He hung it on the wall, using a jacket hanger. Then, he turned to the washing bowl and threw some water on his face and hands, giving them a quick scrub to clean off the dust of the trail. Then, we all sat down at dinner. I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask Seven something.

“Mister,” I said, “are you an orc?”

“Jakob!” Ma said.

“It’s okay, ma’am,” Seven said. “No, boy. I’m a half-orc. Half-man, too, for that matter.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, not quite understanding.

“That’s enough, Jakob,” Pa said. “It isn’t polite to talk about a man’s heritage.”

And like that, I dropped it and we finished dinner. That night, I didn’t sleep much, thinking of the half-orc man sleeping in the next building, with a pair of guns hanging there. The thought of the stories that guy could tell kept me occupied for hours.

The next few days went by pretty normally, with the exception that we spent time training Seven how to work a farm. He was a quick learner, though, and was obviously used to manual labor. One day, while I was out playing again, I saw the dust cloud and heard the clopping of horses that indicated men were coming. I ran to get Pa again. We went back, Pa with his shotgun, in time to see four horsemen riding up, right through our garden, laughing as they did so.

“Aker Crownworth,” Pa said, pointing the shotgun at the fancy dressed man leading the pack. “What do I owe this displeasure to?”

“Now I don’t want no trouble, Silverblade,” the man said. “I just came to give you a warning. I got that contract from the crown to herd cattle. That means I’m going to need all the land here to graze them in. My offer is still on the table, Silverblade. I’d suggest you take it before it’s too late.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Pa said. “And the suggestion. Now get off my property.”

“It’s only your property for now,” Crownworth said.

“It’s my property as long as I stay here,” Pa said.

“That can be arranged,” Crownworth said.

Just then, Seven walked up from behind, and stood next to Pa. He didn’t say anything, but all four of the riders looked down at him with nervous expressions. For a moment, there was nothing said. Then, finally, Crownworth looked straight at Seven.

“Who are you, half-orc?” he said with a sneer on his face.

“A friend of Silverblades,” he said in a voice that was half a growl.

It was obvious that the four horsemen were very uncomfortable with that. Apparently, half-orcs were cause of terror. At the time, I really didn’t know why, but I thought it was cool that he could cause that kind of reaction in those men.

“I won’t tell you again, Aker,” Pa said then, taking control of the situation. “Get off my land.”

The four riders turned to leave then, but not before Crownworth turned to look back at us.

“This isn’t over, Silverblade,” he said. “I’ll have your land soon.”

“That’s a pleasant man,” the half-orc said, causing my Pa to laugh.

“Yeah,” Pa said. “He’s a local land baron. Trying to run us homesteaders out in order to get this land for his herd. It’s stupid, this is prime farming land, and he wants to waist it with a heard of cattle. The cattle herders time is done. It’s time for farmers to come in, for men to hold land, their own land, and make something of it. My family have worked hard on this place, and I’ll be damned if I’m just going to roll over and give it up to some herder.”

Seven nodded, and then we all returned to our chores. The next day, we got a surprise visit again, this time from one of our neighbors. He was a halfling named Robin Tallfeet, and owned the plot of land to the north of ours. We didn’t see him much, but he and Pa got along well. When he arrived, his sons were carrying them on their shoulders, and his wife and daughter were behind them. It was obvious that all of them were tired and had been traveling all night to get to us. It was just as obvious that Robin was injured, his leg not working.

“Robin!” Pa cried as he came out to the gate to meet him. “What in the nine hells happened?”

“Dragon,” he said. “Burned down our whole farm, including the house. Made sure to kill all the livestock, too. Never ate anything, though.”

“Crownworth,” Pa said.

“Yeah,” Robin said. “The dragon left us a note indicating that it was Crownworth, and if we didn’t want anything worse to happen to us, we should leave while we had the chance.”

“You’re not actually leaving are you?” Pa asked.

“Of course we are,” Robin said, angry. “He burned down my farm, Cozar! I’ve had it fighting against the herders. I’m taking my family and leaving for greener pastures. I hear that the coast is looking for farmers.”

And with that, he left.

“Gods damnit, that’s three down,” Pa said. The half-orc was there, had witnessed the whole exchange.

“Crownworth has done this before?” he asked.

“Well, not with a dragon, that’s new,” Pa said. “Normally, he either buys you or bullies you out.”

“Sounds like your little friend there might have the right idea,” Seven said. I was shocked to hear him say that. He couldn’t be yellow, could he?

“No sir,” Pa said. “I will not give up my land. Only way Crownworth will get me out of here is in a pine box.”

“Looks like he’ll try hard to make that happen,” the half-orc said. And with that, he turned back to his chores, leaving my Pa and me to just stand there looking after him, speechless.

The next night, Pa decided that things had gotten to bad for him to stick it out alone. So he called a meeting of all the remaining homesteaders. They showed up that after noon, a total of seven other men besides Pa. I never realized there were that many of us out here, I had never seen more than five people at a time in my life until this point. Most of them brought their families to the meeting, feeling that any decisions made here were family business. Ma didn’t seem interested in the meeting, and spent her time baking little cakes and making sandwiches for everyone.

I got bored pretty quick, and went to go find Seven. I was kind of surprised to find out that he wasn’t in the meeting. I was also surprised to find that he wasn’t in his room. He liked to stay there, reading, when he wasn’t working. I asked him once why he never went into town, but all he did was stare at me and shake his head. I went looking for him out in the back range when I heard something that sounded like a gunshot. I ran out to the field by our fence line and heard another shot along the way. There, I found Seven, shirt off, guns in hand, standing feet spread and taking aim. On his right shoulder, I saw a tattoo there, some strange symbol of a shield with crossed swords, and a string of numbers on the bottom that ended in a dash seven. He fired and I saw a can fly into the air.

“Seven?” I asked.

He spun around, but his guns were raised into the air.

“Gods, kid,” he said. “Don’t surprise a man with guns like that. If I hadn’t recognized your voice, I could have shot you.”

“Were you practicing?” I asked. He only nodded in response. “Will you teach me to shoot?”

He looked at me intently. Man, those red eyes were scary when they were staring you directly in the face. I looked away, but t hen he put his hand on my shoulder and his expression cleared some.

“Look, kid,” he said. “Shouldn’t your pa be teaching you how to shoot?”

“Well,” I hesitated. Pa said that he was going to teach me starting on my birthday. He had a rifle for me and everything, but he never got around to it. Running a farm is a lot of work. Plus, you know… Seven was a gunslinger. “He’s always busy. And he’s just not as good as you are.”

“I don’t want to step on your pa’s toes,” he said to me. “Besides, I think you want to learn to shoot from me for different reasons that your pa wants to teach you for. Learning to defend yourself and your land is fine. But don’t go thinking that my life is all fun and games. It’s lonely. I would rather have your life, here on the farm.”

“Really?” I said. I couldn’t figure that out. I mean, Seven was a gunslinger, he traveled the kingdom, and got paid for shooting. How much better did it get than that?

“Really, kid,” He said. Then, he looked at me again, and sighed. “If you ask your pa, and he says it’s okay, I’ll teach you how to shoot.”

“Yes!” I said. I immediately turned to go find Pa and ask, when I saw something in the sky. It looked small, but it was getting bigger and bigger. It looked almost like a bat.

“Hey, Seven,” I said, pointing to the thing in the sky. “What is that?”

He looked up and immediately went pale. “Dragon,” he whispered.

“Jakob, go get your mother and run. Don’t turn around, just go!”

I did as he said, but by the time I got back to the house, the dragon was upon it. It was huge, probably fifteen feet in length from its head to the tip of its tail. It was hard to see its coloration in the moonlight, but it looked brownish. It landed on the roof and let out a terrible roar that could probably be heard all the way back at town. Then, it spit a ball of fire from its mouth that landed on the ground, setting the grass on fire.

I screamed. I heard screaming coming from inside as well, and watched, frozen to the spot, as the dragon began tearing its claws into the roof. It tore it open a big chunk, and threw it across the yard. I saw Pa and Ma and the other homesteaders come running side, only to be pushed back in by another ball of flame from the dragon. The fire was spreading on the lawn, and the dragon spit another ball at the house itself. The fire spread, and I could hear the people inside scream in terror. All I could do was stand there and watch.

That was when I heard a gunshot. It came from behind me and hit the dragon in the wing. It was followed by another one that hit the wing again, and a third finally hitting the dragon in the shoulder join that connected the wing to it. The creature cried out in pain, it’s long neck lifting its head to the heavens. I turned and saw Seven, still shirtless, his gun belt slung on, both guns in hands.

“Hey, ugly!” he shouted to the dragon. “Come on down here, where I can get a better shot at you.”

He fired again, and this time the bullet whizzed by the dragon’s head. That seemed to grab the monster’s attention, and it jumped off the roof. It didn’t land very well, though, being unable to use one wing. It crawled across the grass towards Seven, who stood his ground. I cried out. Didn’t he see that the beast could swallow him whole? Why wasn’t he moving.

“Come on,” Seven said. “Open wide.”

The creature did just that. It got about a dozen feet away from the half-orc and opened its jaws wide, as if preparing for another fire burst. But Seven just raised both guns and shot. He shot again, and again, unloading both guns into the mouth of the dragon. It seemed to have a reaction to the fire building inside it, and I heard the muffled sound of an explosion. The creature reared its head up again, bellowing in pain as fire and smoke emitted from its mouth. Then, it fell to the ground, dead.

Slowly, everyone came outside the house and saw the half naked gunslinger standing over the dead body of the dragon. When one of the men pointed out the fires still burning, they quickly formed a bucket brigade, and both Seven and I joined in. It didn’t take us long to put out the flames, but our house was badly damaged. It would take a lot of work to get it fixed.

“Crownworth,” Pa said in disgust, spitting on the dragon. He pointed to a brand on the creature’s hind leg. It was a C and a W.

“How do we stand up to this, Cozar?” a man, Mr. Harrow, said. “If he’s just going to try and burn us down, I don’t see that it’s safe for my family.”

“It won’t end until either you leave, or he’s dead,” Seven said, drawing everyone’s attention. “I’ve seen his kind before, and as long as he thinks he has the upper hand, and he does in this case, that’s what will happen.”

“All the more reason for us to leave,” Mr. Harrow said. “We’re peaceable folk, here, half-orc. I recognize that tattoo on your arm. You were part of the government-breeding program; you’ve been a soldier all your life. I’m sure violence is quite common for you. But we have women and children to take care of. The last thing we need here is your kind, half-orc.”

“That’s enough, Aroo,” Pa said, grabbing Mr. Harrow’s arm. “Seven just saved our lives. Far as I recon, a man is a man, even if half his blood did come from an orc.”

Several of the other homesteaders nodded their agreement with Pa. Mr. Harrow, however, shook his head.

“We would all be better off if we just got rid of all the guns in Green Valley,” he said. Then, he stormed off.

The meeting pretty much ended there, with several people saying they were still behind my Pa, and that they would be back in the morning to help rebuild the house. Pa said he was grateful to everyone, and when everyone was gone, we all went to bed.

Things seemed to go back to somewhat normal after that. Men from the surrounding homesteads came to help Pa and Seven rebuild and fix the house. In a few days, most of the fire damage was repaired. The thing was, I had trouble getting to sleep after that night. Even several days later, the dragon still had me scared, and the thought of it coming back and eating us, or burning down the house, just made me too jumpy to sleep easy.

One night, I heard a noise in my room that sounded like a creaky floorboard. I sat bolt upright and looked around, but I saw nothing, not even a shadow. I figured it was just me being jumpy again, so I rolled over and tried going to sleep again. Then, I heard something click by my head. I turned around and saw the barrel of a gun, inches from my forehead. I looked up the arm that held it and saw a long, thin face with sharp features, long blond hair under a black hat, and long, thin pointed ears.

I screamed. He smiled, and then grabbed me and pulled me up so I was in front of him. He held the gun to my head, put the other hand around my mouth, and waited. A few moments later, Pa, Ma and Seven were all there. Seven even had his guns.

“Ah, good,” said the elf that held me in a voice that was beautiful to hear. “You’re all here. That will save time. Mr. Crownworth would like for this to end, Mr. Silverblade. So, he has hired me to set things in motion to see that it does. Send the orc to his ranch tomorrow morning. Things will be finished once and for all there.”

“Give me back my son,” Pa said.

“Tisk tisk,” the elf said. “Not until things are finished, Mr. Silverblade. Not until things are finished.”

Seven raised a gun and aimed it between my parents.

“Let him go, or I’ll finish it right here,” he said. I could feel the sweat pouring down my face.

“Just he kind of reaction I would expect from an orc,” the elf said. “Silverblade, call off your dog. You’ll get your kid when this ends.”

And then, gray smoke surrounded me, my stomach felt like it was turned inside out, and I found myself somewhere else.

What happened next I heard about from Pa later. Ma got aweful mad that Seven would bring guns into her house, never mind aim one through her at her son. She wouldn’t hear anything from Seven, and glared at both him and Pa before storming off. Pa, on the other hand, put a hand on Seven’s shoulder.

“I can’t ask you to fight my fights for me,” he said. “Jakob’s my son. If anyone is going to kill that fat bastard, Goldworth, it should be me.”

“We’re not being given any choice,” Seven said. Pa started to argue, but Seven just shook his head. “Listen to me, Silverblade. That elf that too Jakob, the one that just teleported away right now? He’s an orc-killer, trained to use elf magic to hunt down and slaughter orcs. Crownworth hired him specifically to get me. If you show up in my stead, with overtures of peace or no, that elf will kill you. And he’ll leave you unburied, just to watch the birds eat you. No, it has to be me. I wont’ be held responsible for allowing Jakob to lose his father.”

And with that, Pa stopped protesting and let Seven go. I don’t know how long it took Seven to get to me. I’m not even sure how long I had been with the elf. He cast some kind of spell on me that kept me out of things. I only became aware of what was going on when he released the spell. I opened my eyes to find myself sitting tied to a chair in some kind of lounge or study. The strangely beautiful face of the elf was staring at me, his lips forming a lopsided grin. It made me shiver.

“Do you hear that, young one?” he asked. I didn’t know what he was saying until I heard gunshots. My eyes widened. “That is your orc friend, come to try and rescue you. Like all orcs, he’s pretty straight forward and brutal. However, as I expected, he is tearing through Mr. Crownworth’s men like he was a hot knife they were so much butter.”

He didn’t seem to be really paying much attention to me, so I took the opportunity to scream for Seven at the top of my lungs. Slowly, the blond head turned to look back at me, and I saw not a single emotion reflected in his otherwise perfect eyes. I flinched backwards and felt the blood drain from my face as he smiled at me.

“Thank you dear child,” he said. “That was exactly why I woke you up.”

“Are you insane?” came another voice. I turned and saw it was Mr. Crownworth. “You’re letting him kill my men! And he’s doing it! You assured me that this was a sure fire way to kill the damn half-orc, and that in doing so, those damn homesteaders would leave.”

“Trust me, Mr. Crownworth,” the elf said.” I have experience in these matters.”

Then, the gunfire outside, which had been almost non-stop at this point, stopped. All three of us turned towards the window.

“Did they get him?” Crownworth asked.

“Unlikely,” The elf sneered. Apparently, neither of them could see much outside.

“Come on out, orc-killer,” I herd Seven call from outside somewhere. “I know you got a trap for me inside. So, I think I’ll just stay out here, if’n you don’t mind. But, if you would be willing to come out here, make this fight more even like, I’d be much obliged.”

“Interesting,” the elf said.

“Interesting?” Crownworth cried. “Interesting, indeed! You set this disaster up, on my money. You get your skinny ass out there and end it now. Use your magic if you must, just finish it!”

The elf started at the land baron with such a withering stair that even I wanted to flinch. Mr. Crownworth inched backwards from the other man.

“My dear human,” the elf said. “I have been killing orcs for far longer than you have been alive. I believe that you hired me for this expertise, and expressly to kill that particular specimen outside. I told you that the cost would be high, for orcs that carry the blood of men are far more cunning than the regular orc, as this one outside is proving to be. But, I can and will kill this orc. Now, if you will not allow me to do things my way, you are welcome to die on your own. Do I make myself clear?”

Mr. Crownworth nodded.

“Come on, Elf,” Seven cried again from outside. “I know how your kind works, I witnessed it during the war. I’m not coming in, so you may as well come out. We’ll settle this the one on one.”

“Hmmmm,” the elf said. “This orc has style. I believe that I will go out there. I’m intrigued by what he thinks he can accomplish. Bring the boy to the window. I want him to witness this.”

He smiled at me in what I can only describe was an evil look. I paled once again. The elf took off the slick black coat he had on, revealing a black silk shirt and vest underneath. Then he grabbed a gun belt that had been hanging off the chair I was tied to and slung it on. There was only one gun in it, and it looked very small compared to the hand cannons Seven carried. The elf saw my look, and before I could even blink, he had the gun drawn and aimed straight at my head. In another eye blink, the gun was back in its holster. Nothing showy, just simple movements made so fast I could barely follow them.

“I shall return soon, Mr. Crownworth,” he said. “Please make sure the boy doesn’t leave.”

With that, a cloud of gray smoke appeared around him and he disappeared. Without a word, Mr. Crownworth grabbed my chair and roughly dragged it across the room so I was now sitting at the window and could see what was happening outside.

The elf had appeared on the steps to the main entrance of the ranch. I saw Seven by the gate that was the entrance to the ranch. He stood casually, but I could tell that he was ready to draw his gun. The two didn’t say a word. I was seriously worried. Seven was good and gunslinging, but there was no way he was as fast as the elf. He couldn’t win this kind of showdown. Then, it happened. Seven reached for his weapon, but the elf moved faster and had his gun drawn and fired before Seven even had his hand on his gun.

But I heard two gunshots. And as I watched, Seven didn’t fall to the ground hit, but instead he faded away. I looked back towards the elf, who fell to his knees. He turned to look behind him, and I could see that a big hole had been blown through his head. He fell the rest of the way to the ground, dead. Seven stepped out of the shadows behind the elf, and threw a ring on his chest.

“Illusion ring,” I heard him say. “I got it form one of your kind during the war.”

Mr. Crownworth swore then, and started to get his own gun out. By the time he got it up to my mead, the door to the room broke open and Seven came in. Without a single pause in movement, Seven fired, and Mr. Crownworth fell behind me. I knew without looking he was dead. And just like that, it was all over. I started to cry. I had never been more terrified in my life.

“It’s okay now, kid,” Seven said in his gruff voice. “We’ll get you back home now.”

And he did just that. He carried me the whole walk home, and I cried the entire time. He brought me to Ma, who took me happily. She brought me upstairs and too kme to bed, were I gladly slept until the following morning. When I got up, I looked out my window and saw Seven, wearing his poncho and carrying his saddlebags on his shoulder. I cried his name and ran outside. Pa and Ma were already down there. Pa grabbed Seven’s arm.

“Seven,” he said. “You don’t need to leave, you know. You’re welcome to stay here.”

He shook his head. “You’re neighbor was right,” he said. “You all will be better off without any guns here. And there are two left. I think I need to accept that I just cannot escape a life of violence, and you don’t need me bringing that life here.”

“Where will you go?” Pa asked.

“I’ll go where I was heading originally,” he said. “Coyote Mesa. They still need workers, and maybe a larger town like that has better use for a man like myself.”

Pa nodded, and shook his hand. Seven started to and leave, but before he could, I ran up and gave him a big hug. He smiled down at me and ran his hand through my hair.

“You’ll be alright, kid,” he said. “You got a good family here. Take care of ‘em for me.”

I nodded, and whipping away tears, I watched him leave. All three of us stood there and watched him go until he was over the hill and we couldn’t see him anymore. And that was the last I ever saw of Seven the half-orc.

The End

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