Steelhands and Stonefist Ch. 01byEt2bruttus©
Niizkka'Lor Stonefist -often referred to as Nikka by her human patrons- stood at her grinding stone, sharpening a recently-crafted bastard sword. The female orc kept her forge and her stand of various wares situated in the city square, where she could catch the attention of as many potential customers as possible. The other human merchants and vendors who kept their goods and wares on their own stands nearby still mistrusted her because she was an orc, but she thought nothing of it. She minded her own business and let the mistrustful humans glare at her occult appearance as much as they liked.
Nikka had been part of the Orc Empire that had invaded the human kingdoms four summers prior. For centuries, the orcs had quarreled with each other for various reasons, but only recently had they seen fit to invade the nearby human lands as a unified force. A warlord named Magmad Splitskull had managed to somehow convince the clans to stop squabbling over scraps long enough to attempt to invade and plunder the human kingdoms. As Nikka remembered, things had gone well for a while, until the humans had regrouped and scattered the less-disciplined orc fighters before they could reach one of the human capitols, killing Magmad the Mad, and throwing the invaders back into the hills.
Nikka had been taken captive when she and her comrades had invaded this very city four years prior, around the time that the spearhead of the orc invasion had been broken. The city of Raven's Rook, while of little strategic value, seemed like a fine target ripe for plunder from a distance. Nikka and her meager band charged the city without siege weapons, shouting their warcries and chants and managed to batter their gate down...only to find a large battalion of armored humans waiting for them. Many of Nikka's fellow orcs were run down by the armored mounted knights and Nikka herself was taken prisoner along with a small handful of others.
Afterward, Nikka had been interrogated and held prisoner in Raven's Rook but was eventually released due to the information she provided on the movements of her clan and because of her skills as a laborer and a smith. She'd been raised to craft weapons, armor and other metal and leather goods since she was just a young pup in the Stonefist clan, and she'd become damn good at it over the years. She displayed her craft to her human captors firsthand and they'd been impressed enough that her life had been spared, though she'd been confined to Raven's Hill as a prisoner and laborer for a time.
In truth though, Nikka had not really hated her captivity. In fact, her situation was much preferable to living in the orc villages and strongholds. Given the meals and bedding (both meager by human standards but posh luxury by hers), Nikka found that human captivity was preferable to orc freedom.
Though, her situation may have been better than other orc prisoners of war who'd been thrown into labor camps due to the fact that she hadn't resisted or caused trouble in her captivity. She'd been very forthcoming with information she gave to the human soldiers about the war and that had surely earned her some points with the humans of Raven's Rook. Nikka, after all, had never had much sentimental loyalty or devotion to her own people. Sure, she was strong-willed, hot-blooded and green-skinned -traits that nearly every orc possessed- but she didn't care much for the clans or their selfish ambitions. The only reason she'd ever joined Magmad the Mad's doomed invasion in the first place was because her only other course was to become the fifth wife to some bumbling orc chieftain to be ridden like a boar time and again before he grew tired of her.
And so, Nikka stayed in Raven's Rook and smithed and crafted weapons and armor for the human legions until the war finally winded down and ended altogether. Her continued cooperation with the humans of the city and their lord, Reginald Steelhands, eventual earned her conditional release from her captivity and free reign to roam the city, provided she stayed out of trouble. About a year later, she garnered enough favor with the people due to her skills with the smith (the previous smithy had been a tired, washed-up old man) that they let her stay in the city as their blacksmith and paid her for her services, despite the fact that she was an orc. She had to pay her taxes to Lord Steelhands and the crown like the other merchants, but the humans had otherwise left her to conduct her work unmolested since then.
Nikka wiped a sweat from her brow as she sharpened the blade of the sword before her. Humans passed by to observe her at her work or glance at her wares; small children would point and make remarks about her small tusks and green skin, giggling, while their parents frowned and rushed them away. Nikka simply shrugged and went back to work, this time to craft a hilt for one of her swords.
After a while, Nikka huffed and halted her work for a few moments to take a break. She took off her blackened smithy gloves and drew up a skin of water to take a drink, observing the bustling town square where local humans and some foreigners were buying wears and merchants shouted about, trying to attract attention to their stands.
Nikke glanced nearby at her reflection in one of the nearby panes of windows. Nikka had always reasoned that she was attractive, at least by human standards; her pale green skin and short tusks gave her nature away, but her black hair was not as unkempt as one would expect, nor did her skin have any noticeable blemishes that marked her as an "ugly orc."
She supposed that she'd been attractive enough by orc standards as well, given that many young warriors had made advances toward her and a chieftain or two had even wanted to claim her as a clan wife. They would come to her, boasting about how many human skulls they've collected in their years of battle and so forth. Big fucking deal, thick-skulled both'rogs, she thought. She'd killed just as many adversaries, human and orc, as they all had, and had been just as capable a warrior as any male orc that she'd ever met. And yet, because of the way male-dominated orc society imposed its traditions, she would have the preordained destiny of becoming some arrogant orc's mount, to be filled with his seed and bear him sons until he grew tired of her and moved on to another orc wife?
Nikka had denied all of her orc suitors' advances up until the day she was captured and thrown into human society. In fact, she'd rarely ever considered the notion of a mate whilst among the orcs or the humans, even on those occasions when her "heat" came upon her. Most orc males she'd met had been too arrogant and stupid and most human men she'd ever met were too soft and chivalrous for her tastes, and would likely not even give a second thought to an orcess like her anyway.
She'd nearly given up on any hope of mateship...until the day that she first saw him.
By him, she was referring to Sir Desmond Steelhands, the Lord of Raven Rook's second son. Sir Desmond was a young knight, twenty-one years old, and a seasoned veteran of the war with the orcs. Though she didn't see him at the time, Sir Desmond had supposedly mounted the defense of Raven's Rook against her orc clan the day that they attacked the city. She hadn't fought him, but she had heard that he'd killed many of her former clansman singlehandedly.
Aside from his stellar military career and renowned feats throughout the kingdom, Sir Desmond was considered to be one of the handsomest men in Raven's Rook, if not the entire kingdom as well. He had flowing golden locks of hair -the kind that ladyfolk liked to run their fingers through- as well as a firm, stocky build and a strong face, deep, intelligent blue eyes, and a kind personality to compliment it all. Better still, Sir Desmond didn't flaunt his fame or boast about his courage as other pompous silver knights liked to do. Sir Desmond had killed orc chieftains and countless clansmen, but he never sang songs about his own glory or walked around with pretty maids and highborn ladies wrapped around him. He went about his business modestly and with dignity, unlike how his arrogant father had went about his knighthood in his youth.
Nikka had heard many human ladyfolk whisper and giggle about Sir Desmond and was always overcome with jealousy. It was no secret that Nikka was no human lady and likely had no chance with the likes of Sir Desmond, but it still made her angry that such pretentious and pompous highborn ladies thought that they had the right of him just because their fathers were the lords of this castle or that castle.
How many battles have you won and enemies have you vanquished, stupid borsh't wenches? Nikka thought disdainfully. Though she hadn't always agreed with all orc traditions, the complexity of human mating patterns never ceased to confound her. How could such weak, superficial ladies like these highborn human women ever hope to win a mate merely by reciting poetry or playing the harp?!
Just as she found herself thinking of the dashing, handsome knight, a procession of riders came streaming in through the main gates and into the courtyard. The song of a silver horn took up the riders' arrival as many knights with flowing banners strode into the town square and peasants and commonfolk cleared a path for them. Toward the front rode Sir Desmond, full armor regalia and all with his golden hair flowing out of his helm and with a greatsword sheathed onto his back.
Sir Desmond and his twenty or so men stopped in the square. Nikka gulped and felt her heart flutter and beat a little faster when she saw the golden head of hair turned in her direction. Other ladies standing in close proximity to her blacksmith stand whispered and pointed in his direction. Nikka shivered and attempted to return to her work, but found that she was off balance when she attempted to bring her hammer down to shape the blade that she was working on.
Still, the sweating orcess attempted to return to work and forget that the hunk of a human was standing not that far from her. However, she looked up from her work when she heard more women talking and giggling with their girly, giddy voices. Nikka turned and her grey eyes grew wide when she realized that Sir Desmond had removed his helm and was walking toward her. Ladyfolk bowed and made way for him, giggling with their hands in front of their faces as he approached.
Nikka panicked, wondering why he was coming to see her in the square. She then slapped her forehead, marveling at her forgetfulness. Both'rog, how could you be so stupid! He placed an order for a new breastplate a fortnight ago! He's coming to pick it up!
Nikke dropped her hammer and put aside the sword that she'd been working on and went to one of her armor racks to find the armor that he'd placed an order for. She couldn't see him but she saw from the corner of her eye that Sir Desmond was at her stand, leaning over to look at her. She could practically feel those ocean blue eyes peering at her from behind.
She cleared her throat to speak. "Ha- have your order here, Sir Steelhands," Nikka gruffly said, quickly looking over at him before she returned to the rack.
Sir Desmond nodded and cast a smile at her. "I'm very much obliged, Nikka. You do excellent work here, milady."
The blushing orc blacksmith swooned at the praise and the "milady" bit, nearly forgetting that she had to find his armor. The first time that she'd heard him merely use her acquired first name, she thought she'd died and gone to the orc afterlife. Though, she shouldn't have been surprised that he'd call her by her name rather merely "orc" as newcomers referred to her as; she knew that Sir Desmond liked to get to know the commonfolk and treated many of the people of Raven's Rook like friends rather than subjects. Word has it, he even spent most nights in the barracks with his men rather than on his fief or in his father's high keep, so that he could be closer to the commonfolk in his city.
Nikka shakily found the armor. It was a silver breastplate as he'd requested, but there were some added features that Nikka had taken upon herself to include when she crafted the armor. A clenched fist -the insignia of his house- was engraved onto the front, and the entire breastplate had been shined to perfection. It had taken Nikka nearly a full day just to make the intricate fist sigil on the breastplate, but it had been worth it for the orcess to give the dashing knight a breastplate that he wouldn't soon forget.
Nikka picked it up from the rack effortlessly and walked it over to Sir Desmond at the front of her ware-stand. She gulped, trying not to meet his gaze and lose herself in that blue gaze -a gaze that made her shiver and her nether regions tingle. The orcess set down the armor before him, displaying it in all its glory so that the insignia was in plain view.
Sir Desmond picked up the armor to observe it, nodding and marveling at its weight, texture and then smiling as he came upon the fist sigil on the front. He knocked the front of it with his fist and pressed on the front as if to measure its durability for himself. Nikka was nearly shaking with nervousness, hoping that he would be pleased with her work.
Finally, he set the armor down and smiled back at her. "Once again, Lady Stonefist, you have outdone yourself. I dare say that you can put the most master smiths in the kingdom to shame. A many thanks."
Nikka was overjoyed. She smiled in a way that her sharp teeth and tusks were displayed and wiped a black strand of hair away from her sweaty forehead. Nearby women scowled or turned away, but Sir Desmond seemed undeterred.
"I glad you like me work, sir," she mumbled, still smiling.
Sir Desmond nodded, drawing out a pouch of coin and laying it down before her. "I believe this is what is owed?" he asked.
Nikka, with shaky hands, unfurled the loop of the pouch and poured out the coins, counting them in orcish. She nodded at him when she found that he'd given her what was promised, true to his word. Many a time, human noblemen had tried to shortchange her because she was a woman blacksmith and worse, an orc woman blacksmith.
Much to her surprise though, Sir Desmond reached into his belt and drew out another smaller pouch and poured the content into the mailed palm of his hand. He counted out a few more coins and then added that to the amount that he'd already given her, smiling.
"Extra coin, for the hard work you put into the sigil."
Her eyes widened and the orcess sputtered, chewing her lip with her tusk. "N- no, sir! Not need extra coin! Made steel-fist for free!" she stammered.
He laughed. "Please, I insist. A blacksmith's hard work should not go unrewarded."
Hesitantly, she took the extra coins, taking all of his payment and putting it into a large pouch. She nodded.
"Thanks, Sir Steelhands."
He smiled again. "Most welcome, and please, just Desmond."
Goosebumps formed on her green skin at that. She wiped as sweat from her brow as Desmond turned and walked away, carrying his sparkling new armor with him. He mounted his horse, waving at the townsfolk, much to the delight of watching women, before he rode off with his entourage toward the barracks.
Nikka stood there agape for a few moments before she shook her head, cursing to herself in orcish. She turned back to her forge and took up her hammer, chewing on her lip as she began to clang away again.
Sometime later, a female came rushing up to her stand. Nikka turned and saw a nonhuman catgirl looking across at her, recognizing it as her friend, Jahn'ha, though most humans referred to her as Jenna. The striped, orange-furred catgirl was a member of the Tivosh race -a species of nomadic cat people who dwelled in the southern deserts. While they were a minority in human lands, they were still more common than orcs and there was less of a stigma against them due to their good relations and commerce with the human kingdoms. Janna herself was a tavern maid whom Nikka would talk with often, being one of her only close friends in the city.
Janna looked flustered and her tongue licked her whiskers as she looked at Nikka. The orcess set down her breastplate and nodded at her friend.
"Janna," Nikka said, nodding.
Janna was grinning. She crossed her arms and cocked her head at Nikka. "I heard that a certain handsome knight paid you a visit earlier."
Nikka blushed a darker shade of green. "How you hear of this?"
Janna shrugged. "Drunk soldiers in the tavern. One mentioned something about a shiny new breastplate that Sir Desmond just bought so I knew he had to have come to you."
Nikka nodded. "Mhm," she grumbled, trying to sound nonchalant. "He come, he buy armor, he go."
Janna kept giving that smirk at her and tapped at the stand. Nikka couldn't concentrate on her hammering because of the incessant tapping of the catgirl's claws. She turned back to her.
Janna still gave the annoying smirk. "There's talk that Sir Desmond is currently looking for a wife."
Nikka was taken aback at that. Though Sir Desmond was a gorgeous man, he hadn't seen fit to settle down with a woman or even to arrange a marriage yet. Such concerns were not as important to his father, Lord Reginald Steelhands, because Sir Desmond was the second son and therefore wouldn't inherit his father's lands anytime soon. Now though...
"That so?" Nikka asked, looking back at the catgirl. "His father wants 'im to get a wife now, eh?"
Janna nodded. "Yes. There's talk that his older brother might pass away in the coming years and that Sir Desmond may inherit Raven's Rook. That means he needs a wife." Janna looked around. "You might have noticed that women have been trying to get close to him, well, more than usual. Now you know why."
Sir Desmond's older brother had never been as strong and resilient as his sibling, as Nikka knew. The man had been sickly from an early age, made worse by the fact that he rarely left the sanctity of his court. His claim to Raven's Rook had been weak since he'd not seen fit to give his wife any sons. If he died in the coming years, which seemed likely considering his waning health, his healthier younger brother would become Lord Steelhands after their father passed on the title.
Nikka shrugged again. "Good for 'im. Won't be hard for 'im to get a wifey."
Janna tapped on the wood again as her tail flicked behind her playfully. She glared back at the orcess.
"What do you plan to do?"
Nikka looked back at her crossly. "What?"
"You heard me. Sir Handsome is ripe for the picking. What do you plan to do?"
Nikka set down her tools and turned to face the catgirl. "Must be joking!" the orcess chuckled. "I no have chance with Sir Desmond. He's...who he is, and I'm...orc who attack his city!"
Janna shrugged. "It doesn't seem like Sir Desmond has ever held that against you. He treats you well enough and he's always gone to you for his smithing needs, even if only to have his blade sharpened." She gave a playful purr, leaning over the stand. "I think the hunk is doing everything he can to get close to a certain orc warrioress."
Nikka wiped her sweaty hands onto her blacksmith apron and chewed her lip, thinking to herself. Was there some truth to what Janna had told her? Was it possible that out of all the prim and stingy highborn human ladies, that Sir Desmond Steelhands had attraction to her -an orc warrior-turned-blacksmith? Nikka found her mouth grow dry from the notion, not quite believing it herself but hoping that it was true.
Nikka turned back to her furry friend, her grey eyes glancing at the ground as she sheepishly rubbed her knuckles together.
"Janna...you truly think that Sir Desmond could take interest in me? Even though I...orc?"
Janna smiled, reclining herself back so that she was lying back across the entire wooden surface of Nikka's vendor stand. "Absolutely, Nikka. Have you ever noticed how Sir Desmond has never walked around with ladies clinging to him like other knights do? What does that tell you?"