From the editor:
Anglewood the Orc breaks up his prison time with pro-bono legal causes he could win with one paw tied behind his back. But when the high elf asks him to take the case of a grifter and self-proclaimed prophet, he’ll have his work cut out for him.
James Beamon lives in Virginia with his wife, son, and attack cat. He’s published two novels and dozens of short stories, appearing in Lightspeed, F&SF, Apex, and many more.
Things were looking good in the prison courtyard. Seeing how I was stuck here as a convict, I did what an orc does best--fight senseless battles against more righteous forces. So I went to war with the magistrate, the law as my weapon, and proved the former dungeon conditions were inhumane. Half the dungeon dwellers weren’t even human, but the ones that were counted. Those humans needed humane conditions. The ones that weren’t human got a free ride under some racial equality clause. Now all the felonious goblins, orcs, humans, dwarves, and whatever had a courtyard, with weights and card tables.
The weights were the most important thing. I had to stay buff for when I got out of lockup and joined forces with some dark lord’s dark army. Last thing I wanted to be was the runt orc. They got the shit jobs like “guard the captured yet resourceful hero” or “stand over the trapdoor while the evil lieutenant briefs the overlord with bad news.”
I strutted through the courtyard as if I was dressed in imperial silk instead of dirty tattered rags, receiving nods of respect from various races and calls of “L.O.” (short for Legal Orc). Being the big man of the dungeon had clout. I went to move some of that lead around, weights sold on the cheap to the prison by the Dyslexic Alchemical Society around the same time they ran out of gold.
I trained hard, not that it mattered much. The forces of good were working overtime to keep me locked down. Speaking of, a voice called out to me from across the courtyard, a sound that was high and melodious and full of crap magic.
“Ang Ul Wud!”
I turned to face the only jackass that would use my government name like that. Llevar the high elf stood sneering at me, dapper and blond and apparently still full of elf-lawyer pomposity. My fame as Legal Orc started with this clown. In a desperate bid to accrue enough community service hours to get sprung from the tank, I took over as public defender for a centaur awhile back. Not only did I win the case, I won against his highness elf Llevar. He strode over with a leather satchel over his shoulder.
“Came to show me your new purse?” I asked. “Purty.”
“I just wanted to see how you’re adjusting to all the time you keep accumulating.”
I stifled a grimace. The first thing this tree prancer did after he lost the case was find some loophole to keep me from getting all my community service hours. Once I was back in the dungeon, he set off on a crusade to get time added to my sentence. His most brilliant stroke of dastard came with the institution of “Quiet Hours,” where any convict caught talking after lights out got fined time. This is when I learned he must’ve been watching me in the wee hours, and I talk in my sleep. A lot. Apparently, I mutter stuff from my minion days like “burn the village!”, “when do we get to eat him?”, and “hell naw, I’m on break”, sweet nothings that kept adding more time than I could knock down. And since this was a stupid realm of apparent sunshine and happiness, there wasn’t enough new fish getting locked up to make decent community service hours in casework. I’d never get out of here at this rate; they even counted “Mu Ha Ha Ha!” and there was no way you could dream about the good old days without tossing around a bunch of those.
At least I caught my grimace before Llevar could get the satisfaction of seeing it. “I don’t look at it as time added,” I told him. “I look at it as more opportunity to reflect on how I wiped my ass with your winning record.”
Llevar wasn’t as successful keeping his poker face. His scowl let me know things weren’t the same for him over at the Elf Club. I knew none of his peers respected him. Who ever heard of a high elf losing to an orc when it came to seeking justice?
“Wouldn’t you like to get out of here?” he asked. “After all, a career criminal not free to practice his craft is like a harpy without wings, little more than a saggy windbag with bad breath and worse posture.”
“Meh,” I said, as I bicep curled a basket of lead bars. “Dungeon’s been upgraded. Now it’s got that cozy overlord’s lair kinda feel.”
“Hmmm. I would think you of all people would be dying to get out, what with the whole of Seven Realms talking about the rising new dark lord.”
I stopped curling weight. I think my mouth started watering. “New dark lord?”
The high elf smiled, which to me looked like the twin brother of high elf sneers. “Dark Lord Grimsfar.”
Hot carnage, it was a good name. You could tell how committed an overlord was to spreading destruction and ruin by their name. I still shudder when I think of my days as henchman for Dark Lord Rufus and the Black Witch Kimberly. This evil overlord could be the real deal.
“Don’t matter,” I said. “My time keeps deepening, like the folds of loose skin on your momma’s face. That’s the kind of time I got . . . that Hoya time, serious like those serious jowls.”
“See, it’s that crack wise, too-smart-for-a-stupid-orc spirit I need to break. So I challenge you plainly, Ang Ul Wud. Face me in court. If you win, I’ll see to it Quiet Hours go away.”
“It’s Anglewood,” I said. The deal sounded good. No Quiet Hours meant I had another option besides trying to upgrade the dungeon to a point where escape was easy. “And I want double the community service hours.”
“Done,” he said, too fast. He dug in his purse and pulled out a thick sheaf of papers and parchment.
I looked at the stack of paperwork, the size of which made my investigative mind start working immediately. Something wasn’t right here.
“How’d you fit all that in there with your make-up case?”
“Take the paperwork,” he said with glossy lips.
I don’t know why Llevar gave me all that paper, but the parchment was truly a gift from the gods. That stuff was way better than our standard issue toilet paper. It had to be lambskin. Whatever it was, it was a baby soft sign that my mission to make this dungeon more humane was far from over.
While I enjoyed one of the little perks of public service, I did read the first page. Turned out a man named Algus Truthseer was charged with fraud, embezzlement, perpetrating a hoax, malicious scheming, and impersonating a prophet. Sounded like a dude who knew how to get over and turn a party out all at once.
I realized why Llevar was so quick to bet his reputation again when I saw the story behind the charges. Old Algus had convinced a few farmboy chumps that they were all the Chosen One of Prophecy, destined to defeat the near-insurmountable forces of evil with the help of the darkness-banishing sword Cleave. And Cleave could be theirs for five easy installments of only 99 ducats each.
This case made me mad. It was a scheme I should’ve thought of. Granted, I’m more of a pillager than a schemer, but if the idea was wicked enough to make me envious then I knew this would be a hard case to win.
No way I was backing out. If I couldn’t burn down Llevar’s ancestral forest then I could at least beat him in court. I went straight to Algus Truthseer’s dungeon cell to talk a taste with the con artist, maybe get an angle.
An old, thin man in an over-sized gray robe, Algus looked a mess, the hot kind, like he had gotten here by getting rolled downhill inside a barrel. Wiry white hair all over his head, long beard knotted in places, eyes searching about his cell like he was looking for missing keys, he didn’t look like he could convince a rabbit to eat its vegetables.
“Hell’s up with you?”
His eyes focused on me and his expression changed to intense. He leaned forward, to no doubt tell me something seriously important. “I dreamed I was awake last night and when I woke up I was asleep!”
He nodded. He was indeed for serious.
“Alright, dude. I’m your court appointed lawyer--”
“See!” he shouted, cutting me off. “It’s as I’ve foreseen! Orcs as defenders of the public! Broken clocks telling the correct time at least twice a day! Cats and dogs living together! The shadow is spreading . . . the penultimate evil rises!”
“Let’s hope so,” I told him. “Meanwhile, you’re not gonna be any help, are you?”
“It rises!” he said, standing on his cot and thrusting his arms into the air. “Like a scantily clad woman hidden inside a hollow cake! Soon it will burst forth, surprising us all with its evil, naughty bits!”
Not for the first time, I was glad I had spent most of my life alternating between being locked up in one legal system or another and working for sinister forces. I would need every trick I had picked up along the way to win this case.
The courtroom was packed, standing room only. I knew I’d gotten fans after word had spread of my first win but this was enough to make an orc blush. Once I see a high elf bleed I can’t help but wanna see more elf blood . . . apparently it wasn’t just me. I winked at the dozen folks in the jury box.
The magistrate looked to me and Llevar, shrewd eyes under bushy gray eyebrows. “We ready to start this?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Llevar said. “First I’d like to call--”
“Hold up!” I cut His Highness off then looked at the magistrate. “Yonor, I think the first order of business should be my classy suit.” I looked down at my dirty tattered rags. I wasn’t about to sit through a minute of this case without getting what was promised to me.
“Cretin,” Llevar said, “this is a class action suit.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Class for the courtroom, action for the weight room. When do I get my suit?”
The magistrate banged his little hammer. “See here, you dumb, dirty orc, all you’re getting from this court is multiple plaintiffs. That’s what class action is. Use those beady eyes of yours to look behind you. All these boys got grievance with your client.”
I looked behind me. A sea of young, sour faces grimaced back, standing room only. What a way to lose a fanbase. Least there was a bright side; it would take days, maybe weeks, to talk to all these farmboys. With double community service hours, I’d be a free orc once I won.
Llevar cleared his throat. “As I was saying, Your Honor, first I’d like to call Luc Brawnshield to represent all the plaintiffs.”
“Not cool,” I said. “We gotta talk to each and every one of these dudes to get the full story.”
“They each individually have the full story,” Llevar said. “It’s the same grievance, spoken one hundred and six times. We only need one.”
The magistrate’s hammer came down and it wasn’t in my favor. I hate the fair races. No matter how much time people wasted on their own, all of a sudden they put a premium on it when someone else wasted it for them.
It was just like that damned elf to screw me out of my hours while giving me a case with a hundred plaintiffs. The jury was looking at a legion of young, hurt faces like some giant box of puppies who all needed good homes. Luc Brawnshield was on the stand, his acne-free, handsome face telling the story of how this old man descended on his meager farm, urging the boy to step into his destiny. Luc had dived in, working his fingers to the bone doing odd jobs for ducats. He washed horses, sold Troll Scout brownies, and donned a wig to work as a bar wench, earning four and a half of the five installment payments for Cleave, apparently the most out of any of the farmboys, but not enough. And all for nothing.
Crap. When Luc’s eyes brimmed with tears as he talked about how the men of the bar called him flat-chested, everyone in the jury box brought out tissues.
Screw this. Orcs don’t go down without a fight. Unless it’s a death march. Lots of us go down on death marches. And Luc Brawnshield was making this case feel like one. I was gonna make this guy pay. It was my witness.
Me: How do you know my client?
Luc: He came to my farm and said I was the Chosen One.
Me: What’d he specifically say about the Chosen One?
Luc: He said the Chosen One would emerge to vanquish the coming evil and that I was he.
Me: How do you know he wasn’t just identifying your gender?
Me: You are he. And I’m he. The only ones who are she’s in the courtroom are a couple jurors and Llevar, judging by the high voice and stylish purse. Are you not a guy?
Luc: I’m a guy.
Me: Is destiny like a pair of shoes?
Me: You said my client told you to “step into your destiny.” So I’m wondering; does destiny feel like a pair of shoes? Is destiny comfortable? Does destiny provide proper arch support?
Luc: Um . . . maybe?
Me: Tell me, according to you, how does one step into their destiny?
Luc: I don’t know. It just kind of happens, I guess.
Me: If it just kinda happens, why’d you work all those jobs?
Luc: I . . . I thought I was stepping into my destiny.
Me: No. You think destiny just kinda happens, so it don’t matter whether you’re working yourself stupid or plopping down on your ass to watch it grow fatter, destiny’s still gonna happen. Do you know what happens when you try to rush destiny?
Luc: You get swindled by an old man claiming to be an all-powerful seer?
Me: No, you get called flat-chested by a room full of dudes looking at a flat ass chest!
The magistrate brought down his hammer, which was a good thing this time. It was starting to feel like the old days, what with me towering over a farmboy at my mercy. I was a second away from grabbing him by the shirt and throwing him into a slave cart when the hammer hit. That’s when I remembered we hadn’t burned his village down and that I had no further questions.
I figured Llevar would have no more witnesses seeing as he had had Luc speak for over a hundred people. Nope. The elf stood up holding a sheathed sword, jewels encrusted throughout its hilt.
“Your Honor, I would like to call Cleave to the stand.”
The magistrate looked at Llevar with the same expression that must’ve been on my face.
“Cleave is a talking sword,” Llevar said, “gods-blessed, forged to cut through the forces of darkness and, in this case, provide invaluable testimony.”
“I’ll allow it,” the magistrate said.
Llevar pulled Cleave out of its sheath, revealing a sword that seemed to reflect every ray of light in the room. The crowd of farmboys oohed in awe. Llevar propped the sword, point up, on the witness chair.
“Whattup.” The voice definitely came from the sword, and the light it reflected seemed to shimmer a bit when it spoke.
“State your name for the court.”
“Cleavon Daggarious Rumbleskins Jackson. Folks call me Cleave--Mr. Jackson if you nasty.”
“Well, Cleave, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?”
“I was made long ago by monk-clerics using some mystic ass secrets. I’m talking them rare metals like unobtainium, triple-platinum, and hardas-hellium. They blinged me out so you could see a sword shining. I’m the only weapon in the world that can cut the dog shit out of ultimate evil, which is why I need to be in the hands of the Chosen One.”
Llevar paced back and forth as the sword talked, nodding appreciatively. He stopped and looked at the jury as he spoke to the sword. “So you were specifically designed to be wielded by the Chosen One to vanquish evil.”
“Damn straight,” the sword shimmer-spoke. “In the Chosen One’s hands I take out ultimate evil and all the lil’ evils that wanna get froggy. Like that orc there in the dirty rags. I was made to slide right through his ass like a hot roll that needs butterin’.”
Llevar continued to look at the jury. “What would you say to a whole room of men who were all told they were the Chosen One?”
“I’d call ninety-nine percent of them suckers. It ain’t hard math, baby. Ain’t but one Chosen One.”
Llevar had no further questions, which made this sword my witness. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to ask it, I just knew I wasn’t going to let it talk smack about me on the stand like that. I stood up and got started.
Me: So, you go by Cleave?
Cleave: Yo, why you talking to me, son? Shouldn’t I be in your stomach right now, laughing while you die around me?
Me: I ain’t your son.
Cleave: I don’t know, B. I’ve stuck more unwed, single orc girls in one night than you have your whole life. That makes me the expert. Yo, you need to listen to the experts.
Me: Speaking of experts, how much experience do you have being wielded by the Chosen One while he’s vanquishing the ultimate evil?
Cleave: Word? You trying to question my pedigree? I keeps it real, son, been reppin’ this game my whole life. See that’s the difference between real weaponry and fake citizenry. You started life getting massaged through a soft birth canal. Me? I started my life getting beat with hammers over a forge, catching a real ass whipping. I ain’t no punk.
Me: So by the numbers, that would make the times the Chosen One has used you to end the ultimate evil as . . . ?
Cleave: It ain’t happened yet.
Me: If it ain’t happened, how do you know it’s supposed to happen?
Cleave: Cause I’m a talking sword, yo! You don’t make things like me as party favors. You only pull Cleave out the pocket when you wanna cleave something, ya feel me? The old heads knew that, that’s why they wrote that prophecy about the Chosen One breaking out the one and only Mr. Jackson here and getting nasty on some evil. And on some stupid, which is why I can’t wait to put an edge in you.
Me: Seeing how you got no legs, it’s gonna have to wait, sword. Have you actually read the prophecy?
Cleave: Don’t you need eyes for that? What, they making sword-Braille now?
Me: I’ll take that as a no.
Cleave: You pressin’ on the wrong one, son. If you ain’t got no more questions, you need to step.
Me: I got one more question. You a punk ass sword. Oh wait, that wasn’t a question. OK, why are you sitting on a chair shimmer-speaking instead of out reppin’ this game? Don’t bother, I already answered this . . . ’cause you a punk ass sword. No further questions.
Llevar got up and retrieved Cleave, sticking it in its sheath while it was still talking about what it was gonna do to me. The prosecution’s case rested, which meant it was my turn. I looked over to my right at Algus Truthseer, sitting there crumpled like he was getting paid by the wrinkle. I looked up at the magistrate.
The way I saw it, I needed Algus on the stand. I mean, I hadn’t proved he hadn’t intentionally swindled a small nation of farmboys out of all their money. And in this courtroom, only Algus was gonna vouch for Algus. I figured I could wrangle him in the right direction if I handled him with soft paws. He was simply passionate about his vision of darkness, not unlike the Dark Lord Blooddrencher. Man, could that overlord motivate. I called Algus to the stand.
Me: Is darkness rising?
Algus: <stops picking his nose to thrust his hands in the air> Darkness . . . is rising!
Me: How great is the need for the Chosen One?
Algus: The need is great!
Me: These sound like desperate times. And what do desperate times call for?
Algus: Mail order brides!
Me: Maybe. That’s a desperate measure, no matter how you look at it. Would you say desperation drove you to find the Chosen One?
Algus: Yes! He must step into his destiny and vanquish the penultimate evil!
Me: Sounds deep.
Algus: It is indeed very deep, dear defender of the public. Just as you have been appointed by this very court to represent us downtrodden souls who lack the capability, knowledge, and wit to speak eloquently on our own behalves, so too has the Chosen One been appointed by destiny herself to represent all the besotted races throughout the Seven Realms from the ever-growing reach of dark, immortal forces whose near-insurmountable power lies beyond the strength of normal mortals. My mission is one of serious gravity and the utmost urgency.
Me: Um . . . OK. So, you didn’t intentionally swindle any of these farmboys?
Algus: <laughs shrilly, loudly, madly--laughs for a long time, one of those laughs like he was either pleased with the beautiful cruelty of his own joke or he was the hapless victim of a pair of enchanted happy drawers. I hoped for the drawers cause maybe I could score a pair> No.
I had no further questions. And for the first time since I took this damn case, I felt good about the outcome. I turned it over to Llevar, but not without first showing him the backside of my middle finger, real discreet like. Let him argue that.
Llevar launched out of his seat, scowling. He headed over to the witness stand.
“Algus Truthseer, how did you of all people know these dark times are ‘a-comin’’,” Llevar said, his fingers curling into quotes as he spoke, “and only the Chosen One can save us?”
Algus cleared his throat. “I foresaw it.”
“If you foresaw it, why didn’t you go straight to the one and only Chosen One?”
“I’m old. I don’t, um . . . foresee so good.”
“Cataracts in your prophetic sight, eh? So, why charge for the sword instead of giving it away? After all, the need is great, right?”
“Operating costs! Restocking fees! The need is great!”
“Right,” Llevar said, his nose scrunching up in disgust. “And what were you planning to do with all that money from all these poor farmboys?”
“I have not yet received that vision,” Algus said. “When the vision is clear, the way is clear. When the way is clear, people drink too much and have carriage accidents. Ends a lot of budding romances, carriage accidents. Not on my watch!”
“No further questions,” Llevar said, in almost a sing-song voice. He turned to me, his smile deep, his middle finger extended discreetly.
This was bad. My defense rested like a dead bear. Now was time for closing arguments, which only twisted the knife-like feeling in my gut. While Llevar argued that the crafty old bastard knowingly and willfully took all these poor folks’ money, I envisioned life in the dungeon with perpetual Quiet Hours and without the satisfaction of having a win over Llevar’s high and mighty elvish ass.
I felt like I had committed suicide. Why didn’t I see that a real seer could’ve just seen who the Chosen One was to begin with? I guess because I figured he wasn’t a real seer to begin with. But I couldn’t put that in my final argument.
I looked at Algus, wincing in his chair as Llevar called him depraved, predatory, geriatric. What if he was a real seer? If I could believe it, maybe the jury could, too. I had to try; it was my turn to close. I stood up, remembering not to smile because pointy orc teeth disturb the fair races.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you may be thinking my client don’t know jack squat about the Chosen One. When you really think about it, who does? Prophecies ain’t exactly written in keen detail . . . they’re scrawled down, half-assed mutterings from eccentric old kooks, people who are arguably just as old and kooky as my client.
“You may also be thinking, ‘those poor farmboys.’ They were just minding their own business, raking and hoeing and generally being dirty and poor, when they got the call to be the Chosen One. Now instead of thinking about the harvest, their little heads are full of notions of adventures and quests.
“That’s some bullshit; their heads were already full of notions of adventures and quests. They’re farmboys! Their lives suck. You think this courtroom would be packed with billionaire playboys if the call for the Chosen One went out to them? These dudes couldn’t wait to get off the farm and being the Chosen One was the perfect excuse.
“So here they all are, itching for adventure and quests, but for all we know collecting five easy installments of 99 ducats is the quest. What do you think’s harder for a farmboy to do, something that requires physical exertion or getting that dough? Farmboys have time and desire to practice sword fights and archery, what they ain’t got is money! If you can’t afford to wield the mighty Cleave, the epic sword I will soon urinate on, then you damn sure can’t afford to go risking your life tackling evil.
“We’ll never know if collecting payment was the quest to bring out the Chosen One . . . cause none of them actually completed the quest, something that would’ve separated the farmboys from the farm men. Since we can’t know the mysteries of the prophecies or the mysterious ways of the prophets, then we can’t say for sure that my client did anything criminal. If you got doubts, you gotta let him go.”
I rested my case. After an hour of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict. Algus Truthseer was a free old kook.
A legion of farmboys booed. Luc Brawnshield stood up, fixed a blonde wig to his head and shouted “I can still complete the quest!” before dashing out of the courtroom. Just like that, the courtroom emptied with farmboys running with new fire under their asses.
Llevar gave me a high elf scowl, which to me is the twin sister of a high elf smile. “This isn’t over,” he said before storming off.
It was just as well he left before I could gloat. I wasn’t in pro form ’cause I hadn’t had a bathroom break since leaving the dungeon. Luckily, Llevar had left Cleave in its sheath on the prosecutor’s table. I smiled.
Time to make one prophecy come true.
This story originally appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects.