This is a redo of “The Little Beast”, written for Nethaera’s writer’s challenge on the battle.net forums, at <http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/11986338863?page=1#13>
Tammis Foxton suppressed a smile. Dinnertime for the orc had become quite a comic routine. Taretha sat beside him at the table, stubbornly trying to coax him into using a spoon, but the orc’s clumsy hands kept dropping it. Patiently Taretha picked it up again and put it back in his hand. The orc promptly threw the spoon on the floor, grabbed the bowl of porridge, and stuck his face straight into the bowl. Tammis smothered a snicker into a cough.
“No, Thrall!” Taretha protested. “You have to use a spoon!”
Ignoring her, the orc licked up the porridge. Taretha frowned in defeat. “Da! Help me.”
“Now, Tari, he’s just a baby,” Tammis said. “He’ll learn. Eventually.”
Taretha frowned. The orc continued licking till the bowl was empty, then he set the bowl down with a thump and looked up at the girl. Porridge coated his green face and clung to the ends of his black hair.
“More?” he asked.
Taretha took one look at him and burst out laughing in spite of herself. “Oh, Thrall! You’re such a mess!”
The orc pushed the bowl toward her. “More? P’ease?”
Tammis allowed himself to laugh out loud. “There is no more. You ate it all.”
“He remembered to say please,” Taretha pointed out. “Can I give him some bread?”
Tammis turned toward his wife, who sat by the hearth, focused on some mending. “Clannia?”
“Lord Blackmoore didn’t say anything about feeding him bread,” his wife responded tersely.
“He’s still hungry,” Tammis said.
The fair-haired woman stopped sewing long enough to sigh. “Oh, alright. There’s bread in the cupboard.”
Taretha slid off her chair and ran for the cupboard where she tore a large chunk off the end of a loaf of bread. She held the bread out to the orc, who immediately bit into it.
“Say thank you,” Taretha told him.
The orc mumbled something around the bread in his mouth.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” the girl said.
“Get him ready for bed,” Clannia said without looking up. “Our dinner will be ready soon.”
“Yes, Mother.” Taking the orc’s free hand in her own, Taretha led him to a tiny room just beyond the dining room. The room, not much larger than a closet, held only a child-sized bed and a chair. A nightshirt and a small blue blanket lay on the bed, a book on the chair.
Tammis followed them into the room, carrying a basin of water and a towel. With Taretha’s help, he scrubbed the orc’s face clean of porridge and changed him into the clean nightshirt. Tammis left, and Taretha helped the orc climb into bed. As she picked up the book and settled herself in the chair beside the orc, Thrall picked up the blue blanket and held it against his chest.
In the sitting room, Tammis sat down in an overstuffed chair and watched as his daughter read to the orc. The orc stared, enraptured, as Taretha showed him the pictures in her storybook. Once he finished the bread, Thrall tried to repeat some of the words Taretha read. At one point, Taretha moved her hand to the blue blanket Thrall held. She traced a white design woven into the fabric then she pointed back to a picture in the book.
“Wolf,” she said. “Like the one on your blanket. Wolf.”
“Wuff,” the orc repeated. He scrutinized the image on the blanket as if comparing it to the one pictured in Taretha’s book.
Tammis shook his head in amazement. The girl was so stubborn, so determined to teach Thrall. But the orc was scarcely more than a beast. Taretha might as well put a dress on a wildcat.
Finally the girl finished her story, closed the book, and gently laid Thrall back onto his pillow. As she pulled a mageweave coverlet over him, the orc tucked the small blue blanket against his face and closed his eyes.
“Now go to sleep,” Taretha said softly, leaning down to kiss the orc’s forehead. “That’s a good boy.”
Tammis glanced at Clannia, hoping she hadn’t seen. But the way she hunched her shoulders told him that she knew even without seeing what their daughter had done. Clannia did not approve, and Tammis wasn’t too crazy about the practice, but neither one of them had been able to convince the girl to stop kissing the orc goodnight.
A sharp knock sounded at the door.
“That will be the serving girl with our dinner,” Clannia said. “Taretha, come out of there now. It’s time to eat.”
Tammis opened the door, but to his surprise, the serving girl was not there. Instead he found three armed guards.
“Can I help you?” Tammis asked.
“Where is the orc?” one of the guards asked. Not waiting for an answer, all three guards entered the sitting room. One guard spotted Taretha and Thrall and pointed.
“There it is.”
“What are you doing?” Tammis demanded.
“Lord Blackmoore wants the orc.” The guards headed straight for Thrall’s tiny bedroom.
Taretha’s eyes grew large as the guards crowded into the room. She leaned protectively over Thrall. “You can’t take him!”
“Blackmoore wants him,” the guard repeated. “Now move aside.”
“No!” Taretha climbed onto the bed, covering the orc’s body with her own. “You can’t have him! He’s just a baby!”
The guard shoved her aside. Taretha responded with a vicious kick that caught him in the arm. With a snarl, the guard slapped her hard. She fell against the wall and screamed. The orc, meanwhile, squalled loudly as the guards tried to disengage him from the bedding.
“Mind his teeth!” one guard yelled.
“Grab his feet, then,” said another. “I’ll get his hands. Just stay away from his mouth.”
Finally two of the guards got a good hold on the orc. The third guard ran to open the front door.
Taretha jumped up. “No, you can’t take him!”
Tammis caught her as she ran by him, lifting her off the ground. “No, Tari. Let him go.”
Thrall squirmed madly in the guards’ grasp, yelling for Tari.
“Don’t you hurt him!” Taretha screamed, fighting to get loose of her father’s arms.
The guards reached the door and hurried out, slamming the door with a definitive thump behind them. Taretha burst into tears.
“Da, no! Don’t let them take Thrall!”
Tammis sat down, stroking the girl’s fair hair. Gingerly he touched the red handprint on her cheek. “Now, Tari, you knew Thrall would only be here for a little while. Lord Blackmoore made that clear.”
“But I want him back! He’s my brother!”
“He is not your brother,” Clannia said. “Stop saying that. Now get yourself cleaned up for dinner.”
Taretha sniffed back her tears and leaned dejectedly against her father’s shoulder. Clannia went into the tiny bedroom. Wordlessly she picked up the discarded bedding and the orc’s meager clothing. She took them to the fireplace.
“Mother? What are you doing?”
“He won’t need these anymore, I’m going to burn them.”
Taretha spotted a corner of blue in the bundle of fabric. She darted across the floor and snatched the cloth. “No, Mother! You can’t burn that. It’s Thrall’s blanket!”
Before anyone could speak, Taretha had thrown open the door and run out into the hall. Tammis ran after her. He saw his daughter far down the hallway on the heels of the guards.
“Wait! Wait! You forgot this!” she shouted. “It’s Thrall’s blanket!”
The guards halted, still fighting to hang on to the young orc. When he saw Taretha, Thrall stopped struggling. Taretha held the blanket up and Thrall tried to pull his hand loose from the guard’s grasp so he could reach the blanket. The guards held him even tighter. Taretha laid the blue cloth over his chest and Thrall looked down at it.
The guards looked surprised. Then the third guard reached for the orc, nodding at the others to let him go. As the guard lifted the green-skinned creature, Thrall cuddled the blanket close to his chest and sat placidly on the guard’s hip.
“That’s Thrall’s blanket,” Taretha said again. “He needs it.”
Tammis caught up to them and picked up Taretha. “I’m sorry about that,” he said.
The guard shrugged. “If it keeps him quiet, he can have it.”
The second guard looked skeptical. “What will Blackmoore say?”
“Eh, one little scrap of a blanket can’t hurt anything.”
The guards continued down the hall, keeping close watch over the orc. Thrall twisted to look over the guard’s shoulder at Taretha, but he remained calm. Taretha waved and the orc waved back.
Tammis looked at his daughter. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“But why, Da? That’s Thrall’s blanket. His mother made it for him, just like Mother made one for me. It’s what mothers do.”
“But he’s an orc. He’s not human.”
“He needed his blanket,” Taretha insisted. “I know we’re not his real family. But somewhere he has a real family. An orc family. Maybe someday when he grows up he can find them. He can show them his blanket and they’ll know who he is.”
Still carrying Taretha, Tammis started back to their quarters. “Oh, Tari, you’re such a dreamer. I don’t think orcs even have families. Not like we do, anyway.”
“Then who made the blanket for him?”
Helplessly Tammis shook his head. He carried the girl back into their quarters and set her on the floor. “I’ve seen a lot of orcs, Tari, and I’ve never seen another one carrying a blanket. Maybe he got it from someplace else. Maybe he found it.”
Taretha was unperturbed. “Maybe he’s special, then. But it’s his blanket, and he should have it. It’s the only thing he has.”
“Alright, alright,” Tammis laughed. “The guards are going to let him keep it. I hope it makes him happy.”
“I know it will, Da. It will.”