Of Orcs and Holes

Police dogs, on the whole, are not usually known for their timidity. Armed with a certain amount of intelligence, teeth like steak knives, backed up by jaw muscles a shark would be proud of, lightning reflexes and two pairs of running legs in case things go pear-shaped, they are well equipped for the average dark-night-what's-that-strange-noise scenario. Add to this the rather ambivalent knowledge that your testicles are stored "off-site", as it were, there isn't much a canine law enforcement operative has to fear.

So when Constable Cordite, a typical British police dog-handler, educated, as so many of them now are, to degree level, watched his dog Zeus disappear up the road with his tail between his legs and his ears flat to his head, he immediately suspected something was terribly wrong.

And being, as previously stated, not too slow on the uptake, he rapidly followed suit. Being hampered with just the one pair of running legs, and with his baby-makers definitely present, he took a more circuitous route, interposing large concrete objects between himself, the unlit park and the thick bush from which the noise was coming. As he ran, the PC vowed to return during daylight hours to investigate. This manoeuvre, although not yet in the police handbook, nevertheless saved Constable Cordite from a difficult meeting that would certainly have spoiled an otherwise promising career.

It was Uhlug-uhr's birthday. He was seven years old, not bad for an orc. In human terms that made him about seven. Mentally. Physically he was eighteen, the kind of eighteen that has been getting served in pubs since it was twelve, the kind that hasn't been spanked by its parents since it came home with a stunned bear under its arm.

As a special treat, and as everyone else seemed to have forgotten, Uhlug-uhr had decided to raid the shaman's cave. He was strictly not allowed in there, on pain of pain, by the only two orcs in the tribe who could say no to his face and still have teeth left afterwards; the shaman himself, who summoned demons with huge claws and napalm breath when threatened, and big Dung-Dung, the chief's bodyguard. It was said that Dung-Dung, uncle Dung-Dung to Uhlug-uhr, once mistakenly entered an ogres' lair whilst drunk. A week later he re-appeared, wearing an ogre skin tunic, ogre skin trousers, ogre skin shoes and carrying a live ogre in a sack, demanding to keep it and promising to walk it and clean it out.

Uhlug-uhr wasn't quite up to this standard, but then Dung-Dung had been nearly ten, so he had plenty of time yet. Besides, he wasn't yet considered anywhere near an adult, and was even excluded from today's tribal meetings. So, with nothing to lose and much to prove, he began to execute his cunning master plan.

Today, as every other day, his four foot seven frame (that's width and height) was dressed in a leather tabard with leather trousers, simple leather boots and a boiled leather hat. His trousers were held up with a leather belt and leather thongs had been used to sew him into the tabard. On his belt hung a leather pouch, which held a few personal belongings, and a small knife with a lizard skin bound handle. His reflection in the water bucket showed him to be mainly brown in colour, with a broad ursine face, forty one whitish teeth, and two yellow ones. After a long drink he added a confident grin to this classic ensemble and stepped from the cave.

On the other side of the lair, the rest of the tribe was busy planning an ambush on some squashy humans. Uhlug-uhr could just make out the chief, sitting on an ancient dragon skull throne. Behind him stood Dung-Dung and to his right sat the shaman. What he was sitting on, no one cared to notice, in case it got upset. The rest of the tribe were spread out in front, hanging on every word the chieftain spoke and occasionally shouting such things as "Kill them, Kill them all!" to show they were listening.

With his betters out of the way, Uhlug-uhr grabbed his chance, crept out of his cave and sidled towards the shaman's residence. Making sure no one was home, mainly by shouting into the cave, "Anyone home?" Uhlug-uhr slipped quietly in.

His eyes lit up with excitement as all kinds of objects were illuminated by the reddish glow from a globe on the wall. Before going in any further, Uhlug-uhr checked behind to be sure no one had spotted him. The rest of the tribe who weren't at the meeting, the very young and the very old, would still be sleeping, so no danger there. When all seemed to be clear, he strode further in, barely managing to control his excitement. What to look at first? Everything looked so interesting.

The cave was long and thin, more like a tunnel blocked at one end. The rock was smooth, slick like it was damp but felt dry to the touch. The floor was immaculate, completely bare and touched only by the legs of the many tables and benches. The Shaman's bed and personal belongings were within a niche carved into the wall on the orc's left hand side, or the right, depending on which hand you used.

Every other surface was covered by, supported or suspended a bewildering array of objects. Weapons, books and scrolls, ironwork, bones and teeth, chests, skins, bottles in stone and glass, statuary, cages with living and dead inhabitants, jewellery and so on, more than one young orc could comprehend.

Almost overwhelmed, Uhlug-uhr nearly gave up. But no, he thought, it's my birthday and I'm going to enjoy myself. One thing at a time, as the chieftain always said. If you are going to kill seven dwarves, you have to start with one. He walked over to the nearest bench and began to browse.

A large axe was soon singled out. After all, he was a warrior. But the weapon refused to move, being somehow stuck to the bench where it touched. The young orc soon got bored with that, and moved on. An ornate box sat near by, just sat there, almost audibly begging to be opened. Uhlug-uhr opened it. Closing it rather quickly and moving on swiftly, he tried not to think about the huge, scaly hand that had been reaching for him. He didn't at all dwell on the four glowing eyes, or the stench of freshly dug earth that had oozed up from within.

A small dagger presented itself to his exploring eyes. Normally, such a puny weapon wouldn't have been of interest, but he badly needed to take his mind off things.

He turned the weapon over and around, examining the blade, engraved with strange symbols. A red stone was set into the hilt, which seemed to move slightly as he touched it. Holding the dagger firmly, he pressed the stone. The dagger transformed itself into a fine sword, cutting the head off a nearby statue without the slightest effort. The statue's head looked up at Uhlug-uhr, said "You'll regret that." in some ancient language, then crumbled to dust.

The orc was ecstatic, a fine weapon for a young warrior, and no heavier than it had been as a dagger. After a few practice swings, Uhlug-uhr pressed the stone again and it returned to being a dagger. Satisfied, he tucked it into his belt and carried on looking.

Several other items were tested to the limit, and beyond in some cases, but the orc was unable to discern any magical effects. He then found a ring. Excitedly he put it on. He had heard all about rings, and how they made the wearer invisible, or able to fly, or speak another language. An enthusiastic launching from a small stool proved him as airworthy as an orc, despite the vigorous arm flapping, and a small mirror showed him his own face looking back. Uhlug-uhr pulled the ring from his finger and dejectedly threw it back where he found it. Talking to foreigners was something as alien to his nature as ironing to a bloke who lives with his mother.

After pushing his luck so far, Uhlug-uhr decided to leave; after he had found just one more thing. He picked up the nearest object. It was egg shaped with a kind of handgrip. It fitted perfectly in his massive paw, and had a projection at one end like a tube. When gripped, the thing gave slightly. He was just about to try it out when he heard voices just outside. It was the shaman and the big chief. And where the chief went, there was uncle Dung-Dung

In a state of panic, Uhlug-uhr dashed between the benches heading for the rear of the cave. Frantically, he scoured his surroundings, looking for somewhere to hide. He pulled open the lid of a chest, but it was already full. He ducked under a bench, then realised it was too exposed. He pulled back a large fur hung on the wall but something black and shapeless hissed at him. The voices were closer now, practically in the cave.

Spotting a ladder leading up to a trapdoor in the roof, he grabbed the rungs and began to climb. The young orc had forgotten about the egg thing in his hand. It clanged against the ironwork and emitted a cone shaped yellow beam from its tube like projection. The beam skimmed past the orc's nose and illuminated the woodwork above him for a fraction of a second. Quickly, Uhlug-uhr dropped the egg and resumed his climb, just as the voices began to echo around the cave.

But with every step he took, his body seemed to double in weight. The muscles in his arms turned to mush as he dragged himself higher. The voices grew louder, until he was convinced that any minute he would feel the shaman's hand grabbing his ankle and pulling him back. In his fright, he failed to notice that the trapdoor had been replaced by a rippling void. Doggedly, he climbed on.

The hole was very close to his head now, if he could just pull himself up one more rung, he'd be safe. His stomach flipped as the hole closed over him, and his ears popped as he was thrust into what appeared to be a thicket of stout bushes. Above him, almost obscured by a leafy canopy, a black sky twinkled with stars. Beyond the thicket in every direction was darkness.

It would be fair to say that Uhlug-uhr wasn't the brightest of creatures, but he soon realised something was amiss. For one thing it had been early morning a minute ago, and thirdly, a riot of strange smells he had never encountered before wafted on the cool breeze.

Looking down, Uhlug-uhr could make out the top of the ladder poking through a wavery blackness, like a hole without the space holes usually had. It may be weird up here, he reasoned, but down there was the Shaman and the chief, and more importantly, uncle Dung-Dung. Oh well, he thought, I'll just stay here until it goes quite, then sneak back down.

Uhlug-uhr was still relatively young, so when it appeared he had time on his hands and nothing much to do, he did what any other young creature did -besides finding something to break- he went to sleep. And presently, began to snore.

- Copyright Steve Dean