This is a short vignette I wrote revolving around some of the main characters in a story that's in the planning stages right now. It takes place some time before the beginning of the story, and was mainly an exercise in writing the world and characters, and establishing their personalities and relationships.

With his orc-fanged mouth, Morh ripped the last piece of meat from the bone. The band had a successful hunt for dinner, and they'd just been paid for a job so there was more than enough to go around of marketplace luxuries like hard cheeses and sweet milks from the southern mountains. Times were good, he mused as he excused himself from the campfire.

"Oy, lazyhide!" one of his brod shouted as Morh turned to leave. "Retiring early again tonight? Soon you'll be spending all your time in the world of dreams instead of earning your keep!" Several of the other orcs around the fire snickered.

"Agh, at least I get enough sleep to work in the morning, Iramick," Morh lobbed back, flashing a smirk at her. "Don't think I didn't see you yawning in that battle today!"

Iramick rolled her eyes, wrenching off another rib from their roast. She was tall and muscular, her coarse grey hair cornrowed across her ash-dark scalp. The others turned her way to watch her response. "You must be going deaf, brodda! That was a battle cry the likes of which froze our opponents in fear!" She spun the bone like a knife and pointed it at Morh. "Or maybe you're sneaking off somewhere, eh?"

Morh stopped, not turning fully around to face her. His pointed ears twitched slightly. He was glad his skin was the color of pond mud and the firelight couldn't quite reach his face, because his yellow eyes bugged for a moment at her words and he could feel his heart skip a beat.

The orc woman laughed, tearing off a bite of seared flesh. "Like that would happen. There's nowhere interesting to go, anyway."

"Aye," another orc spoke up, "but we're less than a fortnight's march from Caed Dhraos. Jobs for the taking, there."

Much to Morh's relief, the conversation suddenly swung away from himself and onto the subject of what the band would do once they reached the ancient city. The nice thing about being part of a mercenary division was never being unemployed, especially with all of the political unrest lately. Stealthily he slunk away into the trees, toward where the verks slept. In the moonlight their low-slung, humpbacked bodies looked like hillsides that undulated with each long breath.

Their spade-shaped ears all pricked up at his heavy-footed approach, but only a few of them raised a lazy eyelid. Contrary to popular human belief, verks were intuitive and rather docile when not in battle, and with their pack mentality, they nicely complemented orc bands.

One of them in particular eased itself to its hooved feet and lumbered over to Morh. It stuck its cold porcine nose in his ear as its stubby, tufted tail waved in delight.

He laughed and petted its snout. "Ready for another ride, Tislitch? That's a good girl," he whispered.

The verk whuffed past her short tusks and into his face, her breath smelling like she'd had a far more varied dinner than he. Morh gave her a bone to crunch on while he led her back to his tent, taking the long way around the fire. He ducked in and grabbed a leather sack, and then he ran back out and swung himself onto her back just behind the jutting cliff of her shoulders. "Go," he said, squeezing lightly on her ribs.

Tislitch broke into a trot, going at a steady pace until they were far enough away from the camp and Morh urged her into a run. The bag at his back jangled as he clutched clumps of her thick mane. A chill night wind blew his heavy silver hair away from his face as he used the stars to guide her across streams and down shadowed valleys, over heath-covered hills and past the remains of crumbled fortresses. The direct route would have been easier, but he couldn't possibly be direct about this.

The moon was high in the sky when the verk and rider snaked down from a hillside and toward an aging manor with holes in the roof and vines rapidly overtaking the ancient stone. All of the windows were shuttered against the night, and a small flock of sheep rested serenely in a paddock nearby. Tislitch noticed them and began to turn toward them hungrily, and Morh had to push her thick neck to keep her focused. He had come around the back of the house, where there was also a small garden plot growing various fruits and vegetables.

He left Tislitch in the trees and stole across the stunted grass toward the building, aiming for the stone porch below the kitchen door. A ridiculously giddy grin on his face, he crouched down to place the sack there.

"Oy, brodda."

Morh's stomach dropped.

He turned to see Iramick standing just a few feet away, arms crossed as she regarded him in amusement. She gave him a fanged grin as though she was proud of having caught him in the act. "What are you doing all the way here this late at night?"

The male frowned and marched up to her, sticking his large nose in her face irately. She was taller than him by a good few inches—at six feet, he was woefully short for an orc. "Did you follow me here?!"

Iramick laughed and patted his broad shoulder. "You are too easy to track, my friend. And you make so much noise when you move, you cannot hear anyone following you." She clasped her arms behind her back and strutted around, craning her neck up at the manor. "Strange place for you to be, brodda. And a strange place to be leaving your gold. Is it for ghosts to guard?"

A candle flickered to life in a second-floor window. Morh swallowed hard as a small silhouette popped up behind the windowsill, and then the light moved away and disappeared. He shoved Iramick toward the trees. "We have to leave, now!"

"Heh, why? This just got more interesting," Iramick insisted. She grabbed his arm and twisted him around, leading him back to the porch. "I want to see what you've been doing."

Slowly the kitchen door clicked open and a candle poked through, followed by a small, pale human girl with straw-colored hair. Her feet were bare and pigeon-toed and she wore an oversized, patched-up tunic as a nightgown. The girl's wide blue eyes grew even wider as she regarded the two huge orcs standing nearby.

Morh was at a loss for words and he choked as he struggled to get out some kind of explanation, or at least something that would keep her from screaming. "Uh… these… that's for you," he finally said lamely, pointing to the leather bag at her feet. Speaking to humans was hard. It wasn't a social skill he'd ever found necessary in his line of work. Their clan leader handled all of their business, and Morh preferred to keep to himself.

The girl looked down at it, her brows pinching. She bent over to take the strap but it was far too heavy for her to lift. She crouched down and lifted the flap, and her jaw dropped as the candlelight sent the gleam of gold dancing across her face.

Iramick snorted and jabbed Morh in the ribs. "Didn't know you were such a softie, brodda."

"Well, I…" He looked at her and scratched the back of his head. "I wasn't doing anything with the money. I won't need new weapons or armor for a while yet."

He was caught off guard by something wrapping around his middle and he looked down to see the girl squeezing him with her thin arms. "Thank you, sir," she said.

Iramick smirked, but Morh just stood there for an awkward moment in utter surprise. He'd never been hugged by a human before. Intimidation, disgust, and fear were the only emotions he was used to eliciting from them. Contact with humans was limited to the blows they exchanged on the battlefield. He was not prepared for this.

He reached down and patted her awkwardly, his large hand engulfing her head. "Give that money to the matron," he said. "I think you could do with some new clothes. The weather's going to be getting colder soon."

When she pulled away, she had a huge, gap-toothed grin on her face. "I will! Thank you, sir, thank you so much!" Practically skipping back to the porch, she picked up the candle and began dragging the bag into the house.

As the two orcs turned to leave, Morh looked over his shoulder and saw the girl waving at him from inside the doorway. He smiled and waved back before retreating into the trees.

"So that's where you go," Iramick said as they rode their verk in tandem back to camp. "How long have you been doing this?"

"Since I replaced my broadsword a few months ago," Morh replied. "I realized there wasn't anything else I was using the money for, and I knew other people could use it more. I started checking maps and marking out orphanages on our path." He licked his lips. "I hope… I hope maybe those kids back there will grow up to not hate orcs."

"It's not like back in the days of the Conquest," Iramick said. "They just think we're gross and ugly and barbaric, is all. Can't say that I blame them." She chuckled.

"Yeah, it could be worse… but it could also be better," Morh said. As they splashed through a brook and the glow of the camp started to come into view, he glanced over at her. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"

"Me? Nahh." She pounded her chest in a gesture of loyalty. "We're brod. I won't say anything you don't want me to." Her yellow eyes lit up mischievously. "But can I come with you next time?"

Morh rolled his eyes. "Sure, so long as you don't make noise to wake the whole village again!"

"And here I was hoping to serenade them with a war ballad!" She opened her mouth wide as though she was going to belt one out, but Morh leaned over and clamped his hand over her face, and they both laughed.