"Heart of Dorcness"
A Flintloque Short Story by Danny O'Hara
Classic Flintloque alumnus Danny O'Hara turns his attention to a less well known area of Valon, the Kinkon Delta, in this years Advent Tale. Introducing a new cast of characters we are proud to present, for the benefit of several audiences, Heart of Dorcness.
Like his country, Lieutenant Marlbrorc of the Union of Secessionist Albionites Navy was young and brash. This was his first tour in the Kinkon Delta, and his first independent command. He would make it a success.
On arrival at Saytgon, the city at the mouth of the mighty river, the young officer in his pressed and immaculate white uniform marched straight to the Admiral's office to report.
As expected, the Admiral was a disappointment. Old and fat, he slouched behind his ornate desk in a stained and crumpled uniform which might have once been white. A glass of brandy sat on the desk in front of him. The bloated paw around it raised in a perfunctory return of the younger officer's salute.
"Lieutenant Marlbrorc reporting for duty, sir!"
"Hmm...", muttered the Admiral.
"Y'now boy?", the old officer asked rhetorically in his southern drawl. "Back in the day I was blood and hellfire like yesself. Was a captain in the Royale Navye. Jumped ship so to speak and declared for my homeland when the call came. Made me a commander, then a few months later a rear-admiral. Now where that got me, boy?"
"Right here in this here hell hole! Sending young folk like yesself to fight kooks out in the boonies. If I'd ha' done stayed where I was, then I'd be fighting Ferach or more likes sailing a desk in old Londinnie. Chasing whores and drinking brandy."
The Admiral caught the Lieutenant's glance at the glass in his hand.
"Ain't the same here, boy! Ain't the same... Anyways, here's yer papers. Boat is down on the river dock. She's a fine new steamer by the name of Mary Seelyste. Git yesself up river and find out why Fort Washorcton ain't been in contact. Colonel Kurz is in charge up there, and he can be a bit wayward. Fine officer, mind. Now git yesself!"
That fat old Orc was a disgrace, fumed Marlbrorc as he marched down to the river dock. This place was so hot and humid. As he had been taught at the Academy, the heat made some lose their nerve. This would not happen to him!
As he moved through the throng of Goblins crowding the docks, he gained his first impression of these "kooks" as they were known. The Kinkonese dressed in loincloths and conical straw hats. About them was a mixture of bustle and servility. How did these small and feeble creatures defeat Orcs with modern training and equipment? It was beyond him.
The Goblins moved out of his way as he marched on. Then one bumped into his leg. It looked up at him in fear and then threw itself down upon the ground at his feet. He stepped over it and carried on.
A more pleasant surprise was the first sight of his new vessel. Named after some poet she was as fine a craft as he could have hoped for in his first command. A steam-powered cutter with low draught and free-board for river work. She sported a six-pounder cannon in her bow, with three swivel guns mounted on each side. At the gangplank a sailor in dirty white fatigues snapped to attention.
"At ease, sailor. Who is in command here?"
"Err, Midshiporc Snaggletooth, sir?", the young Orc replied.
"So where can I find him?"
"Err, in the engine room with Drosswitz, sir?"
He found Snaggletooth in the engine room with the Krautian engineer named Drosswitz. They were making a few last checks on the machinery, before leaving on the mission.
The Midshiporc seemed at first sight a wholesome enough character, but that could not be said of the Dwarf. He ignored the newcomer and carried on tinkering with the apparatus while muttering under his breath in his native tongue.
"Don't mind Drosswitz, sir. He's a bit odd, but he can work miracles with these machines. Only the Krauts know how these darned things work if truth be known?"
"I'll reserve judgement on that, Mr Snaggletooth. Now you'd best give me the tour and introduce the crew."
The boat tour did not take too long, and he had soon met the rest of the crew. The compliment numbered twenty-four including himself. Apart from Snaggletooth and the engineer, he commanded Bosun Ironfang and twenty ratings. The usual mix of rough characters, petty thieves and down at heels that one would typically find aboard. But no obvious discipline problems.
"When will be ready to sail, Mr Snaggletooth?"
"Within the hour, sir. Just a few more boxes to load."
And so the Mary Seelyste set out upon what was to be a most unusual adventure.
The chug-chug of the steam engine soon became a familiar noise as the cutter propelled itself upstream into the fetid heat. Rice paddies and jungle crowded the banks. Even in this supposedly secure zone, the boat kept to the middle of the river and so out of effective range from hostile natives lurking on either side.
In fact, it was not until the morning of the second day that they encountered resistance. The crew had been well behaved and efficient, to Marlbrorc's surprise. This was their first real test.
As they rounded a bend in the river, the boat came to a sudden halt with a squeal and shudder. She was aground on something. The crew hurried to investigate and sniping fire from both banks struck among them. As yet there had been no casualties.
"Report Mr Snaggletooth?", bellowed the Lieutenant from the bridge.
"Permission to return fire, sir?", came the reply.
The swivel gunners opened up on the tree-line to either side. To begin with the main gun faced the wrong direction to take part. Then the serious part of the action took place. From upstream a raft floated swiftly towards the paralysed boat. A raft of bamboo on which stood a group of barrels. Barrels with fuses which burned low.
Marlbrorc saw the danger and acted. He ran forward shouting at the gun crew. "Fire! Fire!"
The six-pounder already loaded, Bosun Ironfang ordered the first shot. This splashed into the river behind the approaching raft. As the sailors nervously reloaded, he and another strong Orc picked up boat-hooks and prepared to push the raft off if it came close. If it came to that, both Orcs would almost certainly die.
But the second shot hit. Only a few hundred feet ahead of the Mary Seelyste the raft and barrels exploded. Water and debris showered the boat and her crew, but there had been no actual sight of any attacker. The kooks slipped away into the jungle once more.
Inspection showed sharpened tree trunks set at an angle in the river bed to snag them. With great effort the crew extricated the boat and cleared a path through. Two of the sailors had minor wounds from bullets or debris, but the vessel and compliment were in decent enough shape. They pressed on into the oppressive heat and eerie noises of the jungle.
There came a few sniping shots from the banks from time to time, but the river being still wide enough to keep clear meant that they suffered no casualties. On the second night, with the cutter moored up mid-stream, the next real attack came. A group of Goblins swam up to the boat, each with a hollow bamboo cylinder which had been filled with black powder. The first that the crew knew of this was when one charge went off at the stern, blowing a hole in the hull. Fortunately above the water-line, but one of the swivel guns had dislodged and fell into the water. A frantic fight in the dark saw pikes and carbines used to kill or drive away the swimmers. Repairs were jury-rigged overnight, then in the morning made more safe. The swivel gun was pulled out of the mud and cleaned up, but the most startling discovery came when another charge was found tied to the prow.
This one didn't ignite, otherwise they could have ended up at the bottom.
Late in the evening when they chugged into the wharf at Fort Washorcton. The place was lit up with torches, fires and even the occasional firework. It sounded like the inhabitants were running riot. Figures could be seen dancing or fighting around their fires, or flitting about in and out of the dark. Others sat or lay drinking or drunk. So this was what had happened to Colonel Kurz's command, then? Mutiny! Time to restore some service discipline, and Marlbrorc was just the Orc for that job.
The crew tied the cutter to the wharf, then prepared to disembark. As they did so an emaciated Orc in bizarre garb staggered out of the night towards them. He wore a loincloth and what appeared to be a blue soldier's jacket from which all official insignia had been removed. Instead, it was festooned with pieces of jewellery, feathers, shells and other oddments.
On his head he wore one of the native straw hats, and in his hand he clutched a bottle.
"Hey babies!", he cried out in greeting. "Welcome to the party!"
"Bosun!", barked Marlbrorc. "Arrest him!"
"Hey Orc!", replied the stranger pitifully. "Not so heavy! Not cool! Not cool! Ooof!"
The Bosun and one sailor had thrown the mutineer to the ground, then dragged him up to the fuming Lieutenant.
"Hey Orc! Not cool. Just being friendly, Orc..."
Marlbrorc back-handed the soldier across the face, before turning to his crew. "Restrain this one, then form a landing party. We have a mutiny here, boys. Let's clean this place up!"
The crew took up belay pins, cutlasses and carbines, then followed their Lieutenant on to the campfires. Here they beat, dragged and herded the mutineers together. After the application of fists and belay pins to the complaining soldiers, they sat or lay in a sullen silence.
"Who is the leader of this mutiny?", demanded Marlbrorc.
"No mutiny here, Orc!", spat back a bulky figure who had been a sergeant if his remaining insignia was correct. "No mutiny, we make peace and harmony. Why you gotta come here and get so heavy, Orc?"
With a nod from his officer, Bosun Ironfang punched this one in the face. Hard enough to knock teeth out.
"I'll ask again. Who is the leader here?"
"Captain Cobold is chief,", answered a voice from the crowd. "But he ain't gonna like your heavy ways, Orc. No, not at all!"
"So where is this Captain?"
"Up in the fort, Orc. Chasin' the bad karma away. Maintaining the cool."
"Mr Snaggletooth, keep watch here with ten of the crew. Bosun, bring the rest along with me."
The fort was made of earth and wood, with wooden buildings within. They marched through the open gateway and past various drunk or insensible mutineers. For now, the landing party ignored them. Soon they saw their quarry.
Up on the ramparts was an odd group. One taller figure stood chanting and throwing some pungent substance into a fire while two others sat chanting and shaking rattles. As they approached one leaned over and lit a rocket which flew up to explode in the night sky.
"Captain Cobold? I'm Lieutenant Marlbrorc here to arrest you for mutiny. Get them, boys!"
The group charged up the nearest ramp and subdued the trio who complained as had their compatriots earlier.
"Not cool, Orc!", wailed the taller one. "I'm chief here, not you! Kurz said so, and he is the king around here, ye dig?"
"Chief?", snarled Marlbrorc. "King? Whaddya talking about fool? Where is Kurz anyhow?"
"Up in his fort doing his thing, Orc. Ye dig? Why you gotta be so heavy, Orc?"
"Bosun!", the seething lieutenant bellowed. "Lock these mutineers up in the barracks, and clear out any food or drink. Let 'em dry out and think on their crimes."
As he gave this order, and the sailors set about herding the captives away, there was a dull but loud crump from the river.
He looked across to see the Mary Seelyste on fire and listing!
The mutineer whom they had tied to the wharf was howling with laughter as Marlbrorc ran to the river bank. The emaciated Orc was still fastened to the post and could not have caused the explosion, but the lieutenant's blood was up so he shot him anyway. This minor vent of his fury gave the officer little relief though.
He noticed the charred form of Drosswitz lying on the bank near to him. As he stared at the apparent corpse, it opened its eyes and coughed.
The Dwarf sat up, and the shocked Orc asked a rhetorical question. "You OK, buddy?"
Drosswitz shook his head solemnly and pointed at the sinking cutter. "Damn bastards sink my verkakte boat!"
"You and me both, buddy. You and me both!"
Marlbrorc saw the discarded bottle which the mutineer had been holding earlier. He picked it up, pulled out the cork, took a swig and handed it to the Dwarf. It had an unfamiliar but not unpleasant taste.
Soon the world was brighter. Marlbrorc laughed with his new best friend as they watched the butterflies dancing over the river in lurid displays of colour.
"So tell me, Drosswitz. Kurz is a Krautian name, I believe? So is our missing colonel one of yours?"
The Dwarf shook his blackened head. "Not a good Krautian name, no."
"Kurz means, how you say? Short? Little? No true Krautian would bear such a name!"
Snaggletooth and the bosun later found the pair leaning together and snoring by the wreck of the boat.
Marlbrorc woke with a pounding head and a foul mood. At least the last one was normal for him.
"What the hell did I drink last night?", he bawled at no-one in particular.
"Hooch made by the Goblins.", answered Snaggletooth. "They brew it from some fungus. Seems it gives strange visions, and the garrison here got hooked on it. You were right to take it away from them, sir. They're howling for it now."
"Right,", replied the lieutenant. "We need to get to raising the boat, midshiporc."
"Already in hand, sir. You've, ahem, slept well into the day, sir. We're building pontoons to raise her, and the crew have dived to recover the swivel guns and other removable stuff, sir."
"Carry on Mr Snaggletooth and dismissed!"
He groggily got himself out of bed and into uniform, then walked down to the wharf. Here he found a frenzy of activity as Snaggletooth and Ironfang directed the work. Two rough barges had been built, placed at either end of the wreck and partly flooded. Ropes were passed under the cutter and attached to the pontoons. Now these were being pumped out to raise them. The Mary Seelyste rose up from the mud by their buoyancy and had already broken the surface. Then the gradually sobering lieutenant had an idea.
"Mr Ironfang? Perhaps we should offer our prisoners a chance to redeem themselves? If they agree to help haul the boat up, then we shall feed and water them."
And so most of the former garrison hauled on three rope lines which had been passed around the hull. By grunting and muscle-wrenching effort the boat rose above the river level. With the ropes made fast, sailors dived into the hull and discovered that the damage was very localised. They made a temporary repair, and the prisoners worked the pumps to remove most of the water. Once this was completed they ate, but all demanded the Goblin hooch.
"None of that for you!", declared Marlbrorc to grumbles.
It took several days to clean up the boat and repair the worst of the damage to hull and machinery. Drosswitz haunted the engine room like an annoyed, fussing ghost.
Finally they were ready and restocked. Marlbrorc left Snaggletooth in charge of the fort, with a small guard of sailors from the Mary Seelyste together with some of the more trustworthy members of the former garrison. Put back into uniform and discipline, these Orcs seemed loyal.
The resurrected boat chugged back up the river, heading for Fort Johnstorc. This place was known locally as Fort Kurz, and apparently the errant Dwarf colonel would be located here.
The cutter encountered no resistance on their journey upriver. Jungle-clad river banks rolled past as they progressed. Eerily quiet apart from the calls of birds and monkeys, or their own engine. In this way the expedition slipped into the rough dock at their destination.
On a hill above the river sat the overgrown fort. The cleared ground around it, which should have been open to give fields of fire, was being reclaimed by the jungle. As they moved through this undergrowth towards the gateway, the naval landing party saw no sign of occupation. Had the kooks attacked and taken this place?
The near silence continued as they passed through the open gate and into the parade ground. Marlbrorc signalled his crew to halt and was about to send off scouts when the situation suddenly changed.
From all around the fort, hordes of Goblins armed with bamboo spears and muskets came rushing towards them. It looked like the kooks were in charge here, but then a pair of Orcs in rags and native clothing walked out of one building.
"Who are you?", bellowed one of them. "And what business do you have here?"
The naval group had weapons ready, and the Goblins stood off for the moment. Marlbrorc parleyed.
"Lieutenant Marlbrorc, with orders to contact Colonel Kurz."
"The King is indisposed but he might grant an audience later. Lay down your weapons and we'll eat with you."
There seemed little point in resisting. "Stand down", ordered the lieutenant. "Lay down arms."
The carbines and cutlasses clattered to the ground, joined by Marlbrorc's pistol. Then with nimble rapidity the Goblins took the weapons away. The unexpected guests were led into one of the barrack buildings where a feast of native Goblin food and drink awaited. Whether from the exotic spices and flavours, or the strange Goblin hooch, the sailors became happy and docile.
Even the cantankerous Marlbrorc found himself in a good mood when one of the Orc mutineers informed him that the King was ready to receive him.
He followed the other Orc out across the parade ground, now thronging with chattering Goblins at their unknown tasks. At the far end was a large wooden building with gaudy paintwork. It was here that they were headed. At the doorway a cloying smell struck the lieutenant's nostrils. A smoky whiff of pipeweed.
Inside a corpulent Dwarf in silken robes lounged on a gilded throne. Two large pistols were thrust into his belt, and his grey beard partly covered them. A pair of cold blue eyes stared into Marlbrorc's own.
"You are a resourceful and energetic Orc,", the Dwarf said distantly in his Krautian accent. "I think I could make use of you."
Kurz took another puff on his pipe before continuing. "These Goblins accepted me as their King, for they recognise greatness when they see it. The Orcs under my command have come to agree, and now I am the undisputed leader here. Even Uncle Hee himself fears to contest my power. Join with me and we can expand my kingdom even further. What do you say, young Orc?"
"Why should I give up my position and rank as a lieutenant in the USA Navye to join your degenerate cult, Kurz? I've come here to investigate your lack of communication, and deal with it. My duty is clear."
"Is it? Some of my command had similar views, but they came around. Your world of navye orders is coming to an end, my friend. For we are approaching the Acraprolapse."
"Acraprolapse. The end of the world as we know it. When the stars align, strange gods arise, and the governments of the current regimes will totter. Only here in this jungle with my loyal subjects will there be stability. Come, join with me and be my faithful right hand!"
"Yes", declared the lieutenant as he stepped towards the seated Dwarf. Then he pulled out one pistol and shot Kurz in the head.
"If anyone is going to run a kingdom here, then it is me!", declared the Orc. "I'm the King here and my word is law. From now on this will be known as Marlbrorc Country!"
- FIN -
This story was written exclusively for Orcs in the Webbe and was first published on the 2nd December 2017 as part of its 2017 Advent Calendar.
You can read Steve Blease's original Flintloque 1e Kinkon Goblin article, "The Kinkon Delta", that first introduced the setting back in 1996 right here on Orcs in the Webbe. You can also read Gavin Syme's follow up article, "The Kinkon Goblins", updated for Flintloque 3rd Edition by Craig Andrews here, also on Orcs in the Webbe.
You can see more of Danny's excellent work by clicking on the maroon tag below.