—The original A Steamy Romance Novel and its numerous sequels can be found in the World of Warcraft MMO. The story of the internment camp liberations is detailed in Lord of the Clans by Christie Golden.—
A Steamy Romance Novel: Passionate Lies
Sila could not remember how long the log had sat beside the wooden fence, but it was long enough for the bark to have rotted off. Cautiously she set her bare foot onto the log and stepped up. It still held her weight. She brought the other foot up and wrapped her hands around the sharpened points of the fence posts.
The sun had fully set, and silken clouds kept away any moonlight. Yet after so many years of seeing the same patch of land, Sila knew it so well she didn’t need any light. Spring was pushing out the cold winter, and outside the fence, young flowers and grass began to reach toward the sun. Inside the fence, there were no flowers or grass. There was only dirt, muddied and trampled down till nothing would grow. Sila inhaled deeply and caught the smell of fresh grass with a hint of rain. Good, she thought. Maybe the rain would wash away some of the stale reek of sweat and fear that fouled the camp.
As Sila leaned against the fence, her leg rubbed against something lumpy. Curious, she reached into her skirt pocket and withdrew a mangled sheaf of papers. She had almost forgotten it was there. One of the guards had dropped the sheaf long ago, and she swiped it before he noticed it was gone. She’d kept it all this time, unable to read a single word, wondering what secrets it held but fearful to show it to anyone. She would not risk them taking it from her. It was hers now. She had stolen something that belonged to the humans, and even though one sheaf of papers did not compare to all the humans had stolen from her, it did make her feel a little better just to hold it.
“Hey, you! Orc!” a male voice yelled.
Sila crammed the book into her pocket and looked up at the parapets by the front gate. A human soldier stared down at her, a long gun pointed in her direction.
“Get away from that fence,” he ordered.
A second soldier appeared beside the first, coming up from the parapet as if he had been sitting down. He pointed at Sila. “Hey!”
Glaring at the men, she stepped off the log and slowly moved back.
The soldier with the gun leered at her. “This one’s alone,” he said to the other soldier. “You want to have a little target practice?”
“You mean shoot her?” The second soldier raised a flask to his mouth and took a drink.
The first soldier grinned. “She’s at the fence, we could say she was tryin’ to escape.”
The second soldier passed the flask to the first. “Nobody’d ever believe that.”
“Damn. I wish she’d do somethin’ so we could get a little action around here.” The first soldier waved the gun’s barrel at Sila as he took a swig from the flask. “Move on, orc. Get back to your barracks.”
Not taking her eyes off the two men, Sila took a step backwards.
“Hey!” the soldier yelled. “What do you say to me when I give you an order?”
Sila clenched her fists. “Yes, sir.”
As she reached the nearest building, Sila glared at the soldiers one last time and ducked around the corner. She stumbled headlong into a very large orc, a new arrival at the camp. He steadied her with one big hand and apologized. Sila snarled. She’d seen him when the guards dragged him in earlier in the day, whimpering like a motherless pup. It was bad enough that the orcs bowed and scraped to the humans, but this one even had blue eyes like the humans. More and more, the orcs were losing themselves. Soon they would be nothing but pale copies of humans, serving the humans’ every need. It was disgusting.
“Out of my way, oaf,” she growled.
The orc stepped back, bowing his head demurely. He started to say something but Sila shoved him aside. She had no patience for weakness tonight.
Once she reached the barracks, Sila sighed. Why had she just stood there before the soldiers? Running from them would have been gratifying. She could easily have dodged their drunken aim, and it would have pleased her greatly to see their frustration at not being able to catch her. They would have beaten her for it later with their studded leather whip, but at least it would have been something. And what was another scar or two in exchange for a few minutes of excitement?
But such was not to be. Sila dragged her feet up the steps to the barracks, scowling at the few orcs gathered inside. They all were fast asleep, some sprawled right on the bare floor. They would not have fought back against the soldiers. Even the newly-caught orc had bowed subserviently to her and apologized, no less. Sila sat down hard on the splintery bunk she shared with another young woman and she hung her head. She was becoming one of them.
After several minutes, Sila pulled a rough blanket over her shoulders and laid down on the bunk. Her bunk-mate, Semya, would not be back till late because Semya had no pride. She prostrated herself every time a human came near, and they rewarded her with a job helping the camp cook. Semya got beaten, of course, if she did not move quickly or obey willingly, but she also got fresh food if there was any left over. But was it worth selling your soul for a heel of fresh bread now and again?
Sometime later, Sila heard footsteps, and a hand shook her roughly. “Sila. Wake up!”
She recognized Semya’s voice but she said nothing.
Semya jostled her hard, rocking Sila’s body. “Sila! Get up! The shaman is back!”
“I’m not asleep. Stop shoving me.”
“But Sila – the shaman -.”
Sila sat up. “Shut up. Don’t tell me any more stories about shamans.”
“But the shaman -.”
“I said shut up.”
“He is – .”
Sila put her hands over her ears. “Stop it! I won’t hear anymore! I’m tired of all your fairy stories about shamans and Doomhammer and Grom Hellscream. Just shut up and leave me alone.”
Semya let go but her brown eyes looked hurt. “But Sila, he’s come to rescue us!”
Grabbing the blanket, Sila pulled it over her head and curled up tightly on the bunk. For a few moments she could hear Semya’s irritating voice as the older girl continued to poke at her, but Sila shut it all out. Finally Semya gave up and left. Sila straightened the blanket over her legs and turned to the wall, waiting for the silence of sleep.
Sila was cold without Semya’s warm body next to her, but the peace was soothing. Just as she closed her eyes, thunder echoed through the barracks. In anger, Sila began a string of curses, but before she could finish, a earth-shattering scream split the darkness.
Sila sat bolt upright. The other orcs in the barracks jolted awake.
“What the -,“ one of the older males said.
“Sounds like someone being skinned alive,” a female said.
Another orc jumped to his feet. “No. It’s not. It can’t be!” He ran to the door.
“Bless the ancestors! We’re saved!” he yelled, and he disappeared outside.
The orcs ran out after him – all except Sila. Rain beat on the roof, its patter mixing with unintelligible shouts and the metallic clash of swords hitting their targets, and then, gunfire. Pulling the blanket around her shoulders, Sila moved cautiously to the door. She saw human soldiers and orcs everywhere, running, fighting, screaming. But the orcs… so many orcs… more, she knew, than lived in the camp.
Sila stared. Was she dreaming? A young male orc, dressed in well-fitted leather rather than the tattered clothing of the prisoners, paused by the barracks’ steps and yelled at her. In one hand he held a sturdy axe. “Come on! Get out now!”
“Who are you?” Sila demanded.
The young orc came up to the steps. “My name is Ratnik. We have come to free you. You must go. Now!”
Before Sila could move, a human soldier charged at Ratnik, slicing his sword deep into Ratnik’s leg. Instinctively Sila lunged at him. Ratnik swung his axe, barely missing Sila’s head as he struck the human square in the neck. The human fell in a torrent of blood, taking Sila down with him.
Ratnik gave her a shaky grin as he hauled her to her feet. “Better watch yourself. I almost hit you.”
Distractedly Sila brushed at the blood soaking into her skirt. “What is going on?”
“I told you, we’ve come to free the camp.” He pointed toward the front gate. “There are others outside. Go!”
Ratnik stumbled, blood running down his injured leg.
“Hold a minute.” Ripping a strip off the half-rotted blanket, Sila bound it tightly around Ratnik’s leg. Then he pulled her toward the front gate of the camp. The gate stood wide open, a pile of shattered rocks and flame-scarred wood heaped on either side. Bodies of human soldiers lay on the ground with the rubble.
Ratnik pushed Sila out the gate. “Keep running, follow the crowd. We will be with you soon.”
“Your leg -“
“Go!” he ordered. Ratnik turned back to the camp.
Half stunned, Sila looked around and realized she was outside the camp’s walls, outside where the grass and flowers grew. She was free. She could go anywhere. But where?
Sila saw a trail of orcs, most she recognized as prisoners, heading away from the camp. She fell in behind them and ran.
Sila found the orcs congregating at eight towering stones that stood silent and proud in the darkness. Semya found her shortly after, smiling breathlessly. “It’s a miracle, Sila! We’re saved!”
Sila gaped at her. “But what…”
“The shaman, he saved us,” Semya said. “The one I saw in camp before. I told you he was real. He came back to save us, and he brought the Horde with him.”
Sila shook her head weakly. Then her eyes caught movement to the side and she turned to see Ratnik, limping in with another bunch of strange orcs. Beside him was a tall, thin male whose jaw looked solid black. He carried a wicked curved axe, and his eyes glowed red in the night. Close behind them came the large blue-eyed orc and another orc, almost as large, wearing black plate armor trimmed in brass. Propped on his shoulder was a enormous warhammer. Sila drew her breath in sharply. The stories…
Sila’s knees suddenly went weak. She stared in astonishment, not quite aware of Ratnik as he came to stand beside her.
“Glad to see you made it out alright,” Ratnik said.
Sila’s mouth opened but no words came out.
Ratnik raised one eyebrow. “You are alright, aren’t you?”
Sila shook herself and focused on Ratnik. “No, no. I’m fine. I just – I mean – the stories -.”
She pointed at the orc in black armor. “Is that -?”
Ratnik glanced at the black-armored orc. “Who? Doomhammer?”
“Orgrim Doomhammer.” Sila whispered the name. Then she motioned toward the thinner orc with the black jaw. “And – and Grom Hellscream?”
Ratnik looked sideways at her. “Yes. It is.”
Her knees no longer capable of supporting her, Sila sank to the ground. She clamped both hands over her mouth.
Ratnik put his hand on her shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“But – but – they’re real.” She turned her eyes to Ratnik, completely overcome. “They’re really real? Not just stories?”
Before Ratnik could reply, the black-armored orc raised his warhammer. His voice rang in the night. “Success! You are free, my brethren! You are free!”
As Ratnik helped Sila to her feet, the gathered orcs combined their voices in a tremendous cry of joy. Sila leaned heavily against him, her mouth too dry to make a sound.
The orcs moved on to a larger clearing where fresh-killed animal carcasses roasted over several fires. While an older male tended the more seriously wounded, the newly freed orcs along with the warriors who engineered their rescue gathered at the fires. Some carved slices of meat, some laughed, some like Sila seemed in shock. The orcs who still had families held their children close, and Sila saw more than one rugged warrior carrying a small child whom she knew had no family. Sila stood motionless till Ratnik put a waterskin in her hand. She stared at it a moment then suddenly she put it to her mouth and gulped down the clean, sweet water. It tasted so very different from the stale trough water they were allowed in the camp that she nearly spit it out.
“You’re going to be fine,” Ratnik told her. “You are free now.”
Again Sila shook her head. “It can’t be real. I’ve heard stories all my life of the great warchief and of Grom Hellscream, but I never thought they were real.”
Ratnik laughed at her astonishment, but it was a laugh full of delight. “Of course they’re real. As real as I am. Would you like to meet them?” He led her across the clearing to where the men stood and introduced Sila in turn to the renowned warchief, Orgrim Doomhammer, and to Grom Hellscream, chieftain of the legendary Warsong clan. With them was the blue-eyed orc, a young orc named Thrall. Ratnik knew him, too. He was the shaman who had infiltrated their camp in order to get them out.
It was hours before the orcs settled down, but as dawn approached, most of them, bandaged and fed, fell asleep. Sila sat up with Ratnik, still gaping in wonder at Doomhammer and Hellscream as they talked beside the fire. Thrall sat with them, and with Ratnik’s prompting, Sila remembered she had heard stories of him, too. But Thrall was not a legend from the past, like the older men. He had been a gladiator, orphaned as an infant and raised by humans, kept as barely more than a prisoner himself. He, however, had found a way to escape.
As Sila listened to the men, she realized Thrall spoke orcish with a noticeable accent. Ratnik explained to her that Thrall had been educated by the humans, and he had only recently learned orcish. Sila’s hand went to her pocket. Boldly she got to her feet and approached the big young orc. “Excuse me, sir.”
Thrall looked up, surprised. “I am not a sir. My name is Thrall.”
“Thrall,” she repeated, dropping a curtsey.
He stifled a laugh. “There is no need to curtsey, either.”
Ratnik came up behind her and threaded his arm around her waist. “I wager it will take a while to get used to that. No more curtseys, no more being a slave.”
Sila smiled at Ratnik, gaining some confidence from his presence. She turned back to Thrall and took a deep breath. “Thrall, I – could I ask you something?”
“I found something,” she began. “One of the guards dropped it. A long time ago. I know you speak Common. Can you read, too?”
“Yes, I can.”
“I think it’s written in Common and I was wondering, could you tell me what it says?”
Thrall looked interested, and both Doomhammer and Hellscream turned their eyes toward the young female.
“What is it?” Thrall asked.
Shyly Sila held the papers out to Thrall. “I think maybe it’s a book. I’m not sure. It’s got some blood on it, but you can still see the words.”
Thrall took the object and patted the ground beside him. “Sit down, and we will try to figure it out.”
As Sila and Ratnik settled themselves, Thrall smoothed out the badly-worn pages and angled them toward the firelight to see the words. He looked at the first page, raised an eyebrow, and glanced at Orgrim Doomhammer. “Yes,” he said slowly. “It is a book. It is written in Common.”
“Read it,” Doomhammer said expectantly. “We are listening.”
Thrall cleared his throat. By now everyone within hearing range was paying attention, waiting to find out what the mysterious human book said. Thrall looked again at the warchief. “Why don’t you read it for us, Doomhammer? Your voice is better than mine.”
The warchief laughed. “I cannot read more than a few basic words of Common.”
“Please read it, Thrall,” Sila asked. “I’ve had it for so long, and I’ve always wondered what it said.”
Thrall cleared his throat again. He began to read, hesitating a bit as he translated the words into orcish. “It is called A Steamy Romance Novel. And it says:
‘As Nahni glided up, the grizzled warrior gave her a hard stare. “I suppose you’re here to collect the reward for killing those murlocs?”
Her eyes wandered down to the glowing broadsword at his side. “That depends on what the reward is, Marcus.” She twirled her hair playfully, pretending not to notice how he shifted uncomfortably in her presence. “I may not want it.”
Marcus stepped toward her, bristling with a mixture of fear and anger. “The reward is not negotiable!” He paused for a moment while gathering his nerve, and pressed himself against her diminutive form. Their lips met…’
Abruptly Thrall stopped reading. He thumbed gingerly through the rest of the pages. “It looks like nothing but a trifle. Nothing important.”
Hellscream threw his head back and cackled. “Is that what humans write?”
“But what is it?” Sila asked curiously. “Would you read some more, please?”
The young shaman squirmed awkwardly.
Hellscream laughed again and leaned forward to touch his hand to Sila’s bare foot. “Thrall can read it to me later, in private, and then I will tell it to you when you are a little older.”
“I don’t understand,” Sila persisted. “Is it a bad story?”
“It is only a story. Forget about it,” Thrall said. “It is nothing.”
Sila frowned. “I still don’t understand. I grew up hearing ‘stories’ – about Grom Hellscream and Orgrim Doomhammer. And the shamans. I thought they were lies, but they’re all real. Are these human stories not real, then?”
Thrall looked to Doomhammer for guidance. Getting to his feet, the older orc walked over to Sila and put a hand on her shoulder. The early glimmers of dawn cast a hint of light on his gray eyes and made the black armor gleam.
“When we tell stories,” the warchief began, “we tell of honor and bravery. We tell the truth of our deeds because we have nothing to hide. Nothing to be ashamed of. But humans make up stories, for what else would they tell? How brave they are to lock women and children up in internment camps?”
“Or how they beat slaves and mistreat innocent girls,” Thrall added, his voice edgy.
Doomhammer nodded. “Exactly. They do not want to tell those stories, so they make things up.”
“You mean they tell lies,” Sila said.
“They make up stories of what they wish to be true,” Hellscream spoke.
Sila looked up at the warchief. “But there are other stories I’ve heard,” she said softly. “About warlocks.”
“Sila, hush,” Ratnik started.
“No. Let her speak.” Doomhammer leaned on Sila’s shoulder. He exhaled deeply. “No, young one, we do not always act with honor. And it is not something to be proud of. But it is not something to tell lies about, either.
“Would you like to hear a true story?” the warchief asked suddenly. “I will tell you a true story.”
Sila felt his hand tense on her shoulder.
“It is a story about a someone who got caught up in lies and deceits about warlocks and their demonic powers. Because he listened to those lies, he killed innocent men, women, and children, and he saw his friends and his clan die,” Doomhammer began. “An orc who was supposed to lead his people to victory but instead led them to defeat. And he hid by himself for years, unable to comprehend his failures.”
The warchief took his hand from Sila’s shoulder and stroked her black hair. “In his pain, he committed what may have been the worst sin of all. He allowed his own people to be locked up for years in internment camps while he did nothing. He let children grow up in captivity, beaten and starved and abused.” Then he reached down, taking hold of her arm, lifting it up where he could plainly see her scars. With his free hand he touched Thrall’s head, and his gray eyes drifted over the sleeping orcs, resting briefly on each of the children.
Doomhammer looked interminably sad. Sila wanted to turn away, wanted at least to pull her arm from his gentle grasp, but she did not seem able to move.
After a moment the warchief released Sila’s arm and stood straight. “But this story has a happy ending. For a brave young shaman escaped his human captors and found the few orcs who were still free, along with this lost warrior. The shaman brought to them the spirit of hope. And together, they freed their imprisoned brothers and sisters, and led them to a place where they could live their lives, free and proud once again.”
Doomhammer’s gaze moved to Thrall. “It was an honest place, where they could tell the proud stories of their bravery and also the sad stories of their failures. And they could celebrate the bravery and mourn the sadness.”
Thrall gave a terse nod. “It will happen, warchief.”
“We will succeed,” Hellscream added with determination, sitting up straight.
Doomhammer looked down at Sila again. “And that is the kind of stories we tell. Not the silly nonsense like the humans put in that book.”
Sila looked at him wryly. “I kept it so long. I thought it held some sort of magic.”
Doomhammer reached across to take the book from the young shaman. “No magic. Just made-up stories written by people who have nothing honorable to say. Do you want it back?”
Sila shook her head. “No, thank you. Not now that I know what it is.”
With a quick move of his hand, Doomhammer tossed the mangled pages into the fire. As the worn papers blazed into ash, Sila yawned.
“Best get some rest,” Doomhammer said. “We have several more camps to free, and we will need all the help we can get.”
“You mean I can help?” Sila asked in surprise.
“If you like,” the warchief said. “You can take part in this story as we write it.”
Sila smiled and leaned back against Ratnik’s shoulder. “I think I would like that very much.”