Leguna was completely speechless. He hadn’t thought the huge, unassuming orc had actually not thought of either himself or his tribe, but of his race as a whole. Indeed, the conquest Oljharok brought with him did cause much slaughter and suffering. In the short term, and in terms of tribes, he was nothing but an ambitious invader.
However, after all the tribes were subjugated, the empire had emerged. This new empire brought stable lives and lasting peace. Without it, they might still be fighting among themselves as independent tribes for centuries and millennia to come. Oljharok had brought his kinsmen short-term pain and suffering, but time, peace, and prosperity in the long-term. From that standpoint, Oljharok was the unprecedented, true first hero of the orcs. It was exactly that which Kreighdon had noticed. That was why he didn’t only choose to spare Oljharok, but even submitted to Earth-shaking Hammer and made the correct choice. He chose his race over his tribe.
“I didn’t think Sir Kreighdon was actually so magnanimous and far-sighted,” Leguna’s respect for the orc had risen quite a bit, “Since you didn’t intend to kill him, why did you duel him?”
“It’s a given. We orcs are ultimately a race that worships power. I dueled lil’ Olly to see whether he had the capacity to command fear and respect among a large community. If he failed, no matter how wise or cunning he was, he wouldn’t stay on the throne for long.”
“So he qualified?”
“Yes. He managed to last a minute. Enough to eclipse most of the orcs I’d faced before,” Kreighdon said proudly.
Leguna nodded. Whether it was magnanimity, foresight, or charisma, Kreighdon had it all. Though he was of a different race, Leguna still respected him.
“I see. He passed your test, and you chose to help him achieve his goals. After Blood-colored Warsong’s submission, you gave up all the power you could so he could maintain control over the available resources and speed up his unification.”
“No,” Kreighdon denied, shaking his head, “I’m a warrior, not a chief. I just tossed all my troubles to lil’ Olly. With him handling all the troublesome things I can spend more time training. I never wanted to have to deal with all the stuff that comes with being chief in the first place.”
Leguna had no words. The good impression he had of Kreighdon crumbled.
Annelotte propped both her feet up with a rock. Though her pose was a little inelegant, she didn’t want to have her feet pressed against anything solid. Even the breeze blowing over the land made her feet pulse painfully. She relaxed as much as she could, letting her feet get as much rest as possible. They had to suffer again soon enough. She had no faith in Leguna getting help out of the orc.
A few moments later the orc decided they had rested enough and urged them up and onwards. Annelotte grit her teeth and put on her slippers. A silhouette stepped in front of her. Leguna had come to her side.
“Don’t even think of it!”
She knew what Leguna was trying, but she’d rather cripple her legs than let him carry her. Even though she couldn’t exactly say why, she didn’t want to let it happen no matter what, especially with that orc present.
“Hey, Annie…” Leguna looked a little down after seeing her stubborn attitude but he forced a smile, “Please let me carry you. I… I know you hate being touched by men. But… it can’t be as bad as losing your legs…”
Leguna hesitated for several long moments before he gathered what little courage he had and continued, “Even though I like you a lot… I’m only trying to help you out this time. I’m not trying to take advantage of you. I… I just want to help.”
Annelotte’s brain blanked out immediately. She was no idiot, she had come to understand his feelings over the two years they had spent together. But given how ignorant she was of such matters, she wasn’t even sure whether she liked him back or not, much less how to respond. Fortunately, he had never expressed himself outrightly before, so the girl pretended she didn’t know anything. But today, he had finally come clean. He had handed the baton to her. Now it was up to her to respond and resolve the situation.
She was great at managing information and intelligence, not human relationships. The moment the boy came clean, her brain shut down. She looked at him dumbfounded, not knowing what to do. Nobody could miss her red face, further highlighted by the sunlight. It was the red of an autumn fruit. Leguna had never seen her face so red before. For that expression to appear on someone as impeccably beautiful as her… Him aside, even Kreighdon, an orc with completely different standards, was stunned.
“Whoo! It seems the brat picked a jewel!” muttered the orc.
Leguna looked anxiously at the tomato. He didn’t know what awaited him. Was it a fireball or a hug? His emotions fluctuated as he regretted what he had just said. He had only intended to try to convince her to put down her stubborn act. Why had he gone and said something so tangentially related? They were on their way to the orc empire’s capital. No one knew if they’d ever see the sun again! But he still said it. He was afraid that if he didn’t, he would never have another chance to, just like Eve and Cyranos. Rather than regretting his hesitation when it was too late, he would rather endure the potential pain. The way he saw it, wallowing in endless regret from his hesitation was far worse than rushing forward recklessly.
Though Annelotte was momentarily dumbfounded, she regained control over her thoughts quickly. She nodded lightly.
“Alright. Carry me.”
Leguna’s face instantly contorted into a smile. She hadn’t responded to his confession but she hadn’t turned him down either. That alone was already enough to put him in a gleeful mood for a couple of days.
Kreighdun couldn’t help but want to whistle. He recalled humans loved to whistle at moments like these. Unfortunately, his tusks limited his control over the shape of his mouth. No matter how hard the Blood-colored Wargod tried, he couldn’t make anything other than a wheezing, and occasionally sputtering, sound. Also listening to their conversation was Innilis. A tinge of sorrow flashed across her eyes. It was quickly replaced by a giggle when she saw the two half-confessed love-birds, though.
After many failed attempts at whistling, Kreighdon gave up and barked while glaring at Leguna and Annelotte scornfully, “Let’s go!”
“Relax, even if we get there, we’ll be fine.” Leguna tried to pick a subject to talk about as he felt rather awkward carrying the girl on his back.
“Why?” Annelotte appeared to be trying to shrug the atmosphere off as well.
“I don’t really know,” he admitted, “I just have a hunch that Kreighdon’s a pretty decent fellow. I doubt he has bad intentions. Orcs are very violent, but someone like Oljharok, who can command the entire race, shouldn’t be stupid. There could be some other reason he wanted to capture us. He would’ve had us killed right away if not.”
“You have a point,” Annelotte said softly against Leguna’s back, “But I remember you’re extremely hostile to orcs. Why do I get the feeling you don’t really hate them anymore?”
“I have no right to,” Leguna said with a pained smile, “Yes, they killed Cyranos, but I already killed the ones who did it. And I’ve killed more than a hundred orcs in the last two years. They all had families and friends too. I took many things precious to them, much more than they ever took from me. What right do I have to still hate them? Some time back you said I should follow my heart. This is what I’ve decided. My hatred is gone. I forgave them. They’re not trying to hurt me know, so I won’t keep killing them.”
Annelotte listened quietly to the boy’s ramblings before sighing softly.
“You’re really far too soft.”
“No,” Leguna refuted, shaking his head, “I’m too much of a coward. I am afraid of having enemies and don’t want to make more. Enemies will hurt me and destroy what I hold dear. So, as long as possible, I don’t want to hate anymore. That way, I won’t make too many enemies.”
“Some things don’t go the way you want to just because you want it to,” whispered Annelotte, but Leguna didn’t hear.
The three humans and one orc traveled across the flatlands for two weeks before finally arriving at their destination, Ogrimma.
Kreighdon was directionally challenged. Even after decades of living on the flatlands, he still managed to go in the wrong direction for two days. The three began to hold him in some disrepute as a result.
“Oh, it must’ve been quite a feat for you to lead us here, Sir Kreighdon.” said Leguna, relieved when the city finally crested the horizon.
“It’s no surprise. When I led my tribe around for war, I went to the wrong places all the time. I remember one time we were supposed to fight Blacktooth but ended up in Darkback Wolf’s territory. We fought them for no good reason. Sigh… Being bad with directions is really problematic sometimes!” exclaimed the orc.
The three couldn’t help but slap their foreheads when they saw him being proud of his lack of a sense of direction.