As Only a Soldier Can

A Short Story by Diane Morrison ~ World Anvil Exclusive!

Selena cast a furtive glance towards her brother at the bar, where his massive shoulders – so strange for an elf! – hunched over his tankard. He was already on his third beer, and they’d been in the tavern for maybe two bells – about half an hour.   Since his ship had gone down, Shaundar hadn’t been the same. He’d spent three years as a prisoner of war under the orcs. What horrors he’d experienced, she couldn’t imagine. But the scuttlebutt among the Avalonian Navy command officers was that he’d been subjected to some kind of brainwashing program.   That would explain why he’d insisted on wearing orc armour and carrying that ridiculous clunky axe everywhere for so long. She’d thought his recent choice to stop doing that was a sign of recovery at last.   But then he’d started drinking even more heavily than he had before.   She sighed. Shaundar would sense if she stared too long, so she dropped her gaze back to the rough-cut runes carved in the ship-plank table.   They looked like dwarven runes, but it was no dwarven dialect she knew. Selena was hardly an expert, but elves frequently dealt with dwarves, sometimes for trade and sometimes in war, and her school believed some grounding was important.  

ᛁᚻ ᛁᚡᚨ ᛏᚨᚫᛨᚨᚲ ᚻᚢᛒ ᚮ ᛏᚨᚫᛨ ᚨᚺᚲ

Ih ifa taa…iak? Or taauak?” she puzzled out slowly. “Hub u…why so many double letters? Two different Hs, As, and Us? Hub uh taa…taai? Taai ahk.” She understood none of it.   “What’s that?” her husband Valrik asked, turning his sharp copper-flecked green eyes her way.   “Just some writing on the table.” She tapped it with her nail. Valrik leaned over to get a better look.   “Means nothing to me,” he admitted. “Can you make anything out of it, Kaimen?”   Selena’s other husband stopped scratching his crotch with his wand, and stuck his wild mop of black hair in her face. “Ih iff taaiak hub oo taai ahk?” he quoted.   “You can read it?”   “Nope,” he said cheerfully, leaning back in his chair. “Sheer nonsense.”   “It’s not Norse, is it?” Valrik asked his brother. Selena smiled. For identical twins, they could not look less alike. Valrik’s hair was smoothed back in a tight ponytail. His silk shirt was tasteful and immaculate, while Kaimen’s was torn at the sleeve, and stained with something colourful that could have been exotic chemicals or fingerpaints.   Kaimen shook his head. “Nah, the Norse only use the Elder Futhark. This uses both the Elder and the Younger.”   “It sounds like it might be orcish,” said her brother suddenly from above her head. Selena couldn’t help but jump.   “Didn’t mean to startle you,” Shaundar said more softly. Perhaps he was aware of what an imposing figure he made. Her husbands were big for elves, but Shaundar dwarfed them both. He hadn’t been that big when they were younger, nor had as many scars. “May I see?”   Selena scraped her chair over to let Shaundar lean in by her shoulder. A whiff of stale sweat and alcohol made her wrinkle her nose.   He traced the knife-scratched runes with the pad of a calloused finger. Selena smiled. The cuff of his sailcloth shirt was stained, as always. Dad had despaired of him ever keeping a uniform clean.  

ᛁᚻ ᛁᚡᚨ ᛏᚨᚫᛨᚨᚲ ᚻᚢᛒ ᚮ ᛏᚨᚫᛨ ᚨᚺᚲ

Ill iva taârrak, llûb ù taârr ahk,” he rattled off immediately. A splinter came away. He rubbed it between his fingers, and smiled for the first time in days.   Selena tried to repeat the phrase under her breath. “Ih…  “No,” said her brother right away. “I know that looks like Hagalaz,” he tapped a symbol in the first word, which looked like one of the two alternate H runes Selena knew, “but when Elatha and the One-Eyes created the written form of Balôrrik—” he pronounced it with an almost swallowed O and a rolled, if not growled, R – “there was only one L rune, Laguz, in the known runic alphabets. But there’s two different L sounds in Balôrrik. The other is said more with the tongue on the palate, and you blow a little air past it, so it sounds a bit like an H.” He demonstrated.   To Selena, it sounded guttural. She imitated him. “Not bad,” he said with a nod.   “Sounds a bit like some Nunnehi dialects.”   “Like in Veldarra,” agreed Valrik.   Shaundar met his eyes and his smile broadened. “You would know. They’re your people, after all.”   Selena continued. “Ill,” she lingered on the L sound, “eeva…”  Iva. Short I,” Shaundar interrupted. “Orc runes say exactly what they mean.”   She nodded. “Ill iva tarrak,” she rolled the Rs, and looked up at him for confirmation.   “Pretty close. You’ve got the R sound right. But those are two separate A sounds rolled together. A as in cat, and ah as in tar. Aarr.  Selena smiled. She hadn’t seen her brother this animated in quite some time. How many times had Shaundar leaned over her shoulder just like this, carefully tutoring her through the schoolwork he’d always found so much less difficult? Her belly warmed. “Ill iva ta-ârrak… there’s that strange L sound again… is that the long U or the short U?”   “Long U. Like in rune.”  Ill iva taârrak, llûb… also the long U?”   "More like the sound I used to make when you hit me in the solar plexus. Uh, like in book." The corner of his mouth twitched.   Selena snorted. “I only ever did that once!" His smile broke through again. She answered it with a grin. "Ill iva taârrak, llûb ù taârr auk.” She pronounced the last a bit like "hawk".   But Shaundar shook his head again. “Almost perfect, but remember I said orc runes say exactly what they mean? They pronounce the H sound; it’s not silent. Ahk, like you’re about to cough up some phlegm.”   She giggled. “Orcs are weird, aren’t they? Ill iva taârrak, llûb ù taârr ahk.” She overdid the hack, like a cat with a hairball, and coughed.   “Good! Excellent! A little strong on the end, but fantastic for a first try.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze. “You’ve got some drool on your lip.”   Selena wiped it away.   Her brother shrugged. “I was always drooling when I was learning Balôrrik.”   “So what does it mean?” she asked.   Shaundar tapped the longest word, then the shorter one that looked similar. “I’m sure you can see these two words are related. Taârrak means ‘war.’ Taârr means ‘warrior’ or ‘fighter’.”   “Okay, so is this some kind of written threat?”   Her brother’s smile was odd. Off-kilter, somehow. “Not at all. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s philosophy.”   Valrik raised an eyebrow. “Orcs have philosophy?”   Now Shaundar’s smile was downright strange, as if his lips were pulled too tightly over his teeth. “Contrary to popular belief, yes they do. This is a proverb from Elatha himself, the hero-philosopher who founded the Balôrrek—the Balorian people.”   The Balorians, Selena knew, were the leaders of the orcs and the Fomorian Empire, who had started the last war. How Shaundar knew all this about them, she could hardly guess.   Shaundar pointed out each word as he translated it. “Ill is a first person pronoun; it means ‘I’ or ‘me’. Iva is to hate or deplore. Taârrak, ‘war,’ you already know. Llûb is ‘like, as, similar to.’ Ù means ‘only,’ and ahk is ‘can.’ Balôrrik uses an unusual syntax – subject, verb, object. And they don’t have prepositions like ‘the’.”  Ill iva taârrak, llûb ù taârr ahk. Me hate war, like only warrior can,” Selena translated. She met Shaundar’s eyes.   “‘I hate war, as only a soldier can’,” Shaundar quoted. He tried to smile, but his mouth was pinched. “The wisdom of Elatha.” He thumped his chest in an orcish salute, downed the rest of his tankard, and went back to the bar. This time, he called for rum.   Selena wanted to crawl into her boots. “I said something wrong.” She wondered what it was that upset him. It seemed so easy to do since the War. He was never like that when they were growing up. She was always the one who took things personally.   But Valrik and Kaimen were both giving her brother long looks. “What? What is it?”   “He wasn’t in any orcish prison camp,” Valrik said with a frown. “Or at least, that’s not the whole story.”   Selena blinked. “What? What do you mean?”   “Well,” said Valrik, shifting on his chair, “I can see him having learned to speak Orcish in a Fomorian prison – he’d almost have to do that for his own survival. But why would they have taught him to read it?”   “Yeah,” Kaimen agreed. “That would be kinda self-defeating. He might learn stuff he could use to escape that way. Or intelligence he could pass back to Avalonian Star Command.” Selena stared at him and he shrugged.   “Even if he did learn to read Orcish somehow,” added Valrik, “I sincerely doubt they’d be educating him in the Balorian classics.” He shook his head. “‘Balorian classics.’ Who knew?” He studied Shaundar’s broad back as he broke open the cork on a rum bottle and filled his tankard. “No, there’s more to that story.”   A trap door opened up under Selena's stomach. “So what does that mean, then? Is the Navy right? Was he brainwashed?” Is my brother a traitor? she wanted to scream. She clamped her mouth shut.   To her relief, Kaimen shook his head. “No. He doesn’t behave like someone who’s been programmed. I’d know.” Selena studied him for a moment to see if this was one of Kaimen’s many jokes, but for once, his face was deadly serious.   Valrik bit his lip. “It means the Navy wants us to think he’s been brainwashed. They want him discredited and distrusted. Which means there must be something they’re covering up, and they sold him out to do it.”   Cold anger oozed through Selena’s veins. It was bitter as spruce tea and hard as ice. “And I believed it,” she said. She felt ill. How could she ever have doubted him? “What were you really doing in the War, big brother?” she wondered aloud.   If he heard, Shaundar did not answer. Instead, he knocked back his tankard, and refilled it.
Orcish
Language | Oct 24, 2020

The orcish language, more properly called Balôrrik, is commonly spoken by most orcs, and most other Fomorians in the Fomorian Empire.

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Runner-Up: Words of Worldbuilding Challenge 2020 (Standard League)
 
Copyright (c) 2020 by Diane Morrison. All rights reserved.


Comments

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2 Feb, 2020 03:19

Excellent read. Good strong opening. I like the bits of humor throughout. I particularly like where you poked fun a little at the orc language. And great job with the dialects. You've clearly thought this out a lot.

3 Feb, 2020 20:49

Thanks so much for your kind words! Glad the humour came through. I find it's hard to write and it's good to know it landed. :)

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
3 Feb, 2020 15:32

Oh man, I wish these articles weren't limited to their word count, because we reached the end and I was like "Where's the next page?!" The story leaves a lot open, and seems to hint at a continuation that I hope will someday be picked up and written. On the discord, you had said that you enjoyed putting in echoes of our world, and it was fun to read this article to understand what was being talked about. For grammar and the like, I was too caught up in reading to notice any flaws off hand. laughs nervously On scrolling up to try and pull myself out of the story, I thought it was interesting that you had the characters say Subject Verb Object was an unusual syntax while English is also using it and is the reader is using. I wonder what language is "actually" being spoken in the story and it's syntax.

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
3 Feb, 2020 21:37

I've never created a language before, so I learned a lot while I was working on this challenge. One thing I learned is that English is weird, and SVO is, in fact, an uncommon syntax., even without the perspective of the elven characters (42% of languages on Earth, as opposed to 45% SOV, with every other option making up 13%, according to Wikipedia.) I haven't decided what the syntax of their common language, "Avalonian," is going to be yet, but I'm leaning to VSO or even OSV (the rarest on Earth, less than 1%). And the universe they populate is full of non-human species, so who's to say what the most common syntax between all of their languages is?   In this universe, elves were the first species in space, and the common trade tongue is a pidgin of their language with a smattering of mostly Gnomish and Goblin loanwords, so it's reasonable for them to view their own language as the "standard" (much like how Americans seem to think that English is the standard Earth language, and furthermore, that American spellings are the correct ones, since that's how Google tells us how to spell things.) ;) In other words, I'm pleased you picked up on the fact that they have a skewed perspective that centers *their* culture as the "standard!" That was intentional and I'm glad it came through. :)   And yes, this is part of a greater continuity. It connects to a series I've been working on for some time and am starting to serialize for my Patrons here, as a final edit before book publication. I'm three drafted books and about 350-400K words in, including the related short stories and novellas I've published, and this falls almost perfectly in the middle. I rationalize that it's a complete story because Selena realizes that her assumptions about her brother are incorrect, and her perspective changes, and that's the dilemma that is ultimately resolved in the plot. I worried that others might not see it that way, and would view the story as incomplete, and you're not the first person to ask "but what happens next?" Hopefully, people will care enough about it that it will encourage people to subscribe for the serialization, or to get the books when they come out. ;)   Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
3 Feb, 2020 21:50

I didn't mean my "what happens next?!" to suggest the story was incomplete, just that the story could easily be an opener for a larger story (I also just want to know what happened to her brother, which was what sparked the "what happens next"). I did not know SVO was unusual, and I'm excited to hear that you're working on a series in this world!

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive
3 Feb, 2020 23:53

:D If you want to know what happened to her brother, I have done my job (aside from the challenge itself.) Thank you for letting me know that. :)

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
4 Feb, 2020 23:46

I was stopped by SVO being unusual too. It's not. It is one of the two most common word orders. The reason why it is so common, is that in languages without cases or other personal marking the verb comes between the subject and the obejct so the speakers know that the noun before the verb must be the subject and vice versa. If the language clearly marks the participants in some way, the word order can even be totally free without any confusion.   But having it be uncommon in a conworld or on an area of it is totally realistic. In our world, almost all European languages are SVO while in India and Northern and Central Asia every language is SOV.   Anyway, your orcish is great for a first conlang!

6 Feb, 2020 06:59

Thanks for the info, and the kind words! :)

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
Venerable Grandmaster Tris
Tris (necromancertris)
8 Feb, 2020 10:03

The story has such a nice, casual even maybe cozy atmosphere to it, I really enjoyed the dialogues and the pieces of worldbuilding and different cultures scattered all thorough and then bam! The ending. I think the ending was really strong and made me really want to read more of your world. Great job! This is really an amazing article :)   However, I think that in the future, especially when joining a challenge, you should make it easier for people who are seeing your world for the very first time. I would definitely benefit from some article links or tooltips briefly explaining some of the terms and names used in the story, because there were a lot of them and made me confused. I had to reread it several times (which might just mean I suck at reading, but hey! your writing kept me engaged enough to read you article repeatedly to understand it better so I think it only speaks well of your skills!).   You know? Like Nunnehi → wood elves, Veldarra → Vast plains, the home of Nunnehi. etc etc. Your world seems big and searching for stuff was not exactly easy all the time and you did not explain all the terms you used in text. Or explained them after they had already appeared couple of times. Some people might not be willing to read the entire article to understand it and just quit midway out of frustration, or won't search for answers they needed like I did, because challenges are full of cool entries and there is always more stuff to read.   Plus you could delete all the tooltips and notes after the challenge is over, so it doesn't ruin the aesthetic of your world. But that's probably the only valid criticism I can think of: make it easier to follow for new readers :)

8 Feb, 2020 22:35

Thanks for the great feedback! I'm still fairly new here (joined just at the beginning of WorldEmber) and it's hard to know where those kinds of additions will be more distracting from the story than helpful? If this were appearing in a magazine, editors and readers would expect me to imply inline as I did and glean what was going on from there, and that's the format of writing I'm more familiar with. Those readers would have been content to know that Nunnehi are whatever Valrik's (and presumably, Kaimen's) people are called, and that Veldarra is one of the places they live. So it's good to know what the audience of World Anvil prefers! :D That's really helpful!   In the future I will *indeed* take your advice, and will add more links to relevant articles. And more tooltips! Tooltips are something that was explained to me on the Discord just last night and they make me excited! I am looking forward to exploring the possibilities!   And thank you so much for the kind comments on the story! Glad to know that so much of what I was trying to do there came through. I really appreciate the feedback on the ending. Thanks again!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga Eater of pickles, Friend of nerds, First of her name
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