3: To See
Kali chose not to ask why her son stuck his hands into the mud so suddenly (or why his eyes went wide like someone trying to hard to keep a straight face). Rolling her eyes, she said "Elpis, your ah… your guardian is looking for you." The girl question (not for the first time that day) looked confused.
"Joseph is looking for you."
"Oh." Clutching her shoes in one hand, she carefully stood up and wiped her free hand on her pants, switched hands, and wiped the other one on her pants (it didn't particularly do anything however because now her clothes were downright filthy). Kali jerked her head to the head, motioning for Elpis to follow. The girl trotted to catch up, then followed obediently. Ourruk waited until they were a good ways away before getting up. He looked mournfully at the now muddied rosary as he lifted it from the earth. Well, he could clean it next time it rained, he supposed, and wiped off what mud he could before shoving it in his pocket and running to catch up with them.
His mother and the girl were more than halfway up the courtyard by the time he did.
"We'll discuss what you were hiding later, Ourruk," his mother said (in Orcish) without missing a beat. He groaned.
The guard they were approaching (one of the few sympathetic ones) laughed.
"Getting in trouble, are we?" he teased, grinning from beneath his curly, blond hair. "What do we have here?" he asked playfully upon seeing Elpis. She sidestepped and hid behind Kali's leg, shyly peeking out from behind it.
"This is the girl I was talking about," the woman said. "Is she who you're looking for, Jayson?"
"How many times do I have to tell you? You're my friend. Call me Louis," the guard said with mock-hurt. The constant grinning ruined whatever effect it was supposed to have. The woman smiled and shook her head. "Anyway, yes, I believe that's her. Elpis, can you come here please?" Elpis bit her bottom lip but timidly approached him just the same.
"Are you alright, sweetie?" She nodded tersely. Louis let out a sigh of relief.
"Good. Joey has been tearing up the place looking for you, and I'd hate to see him if he saw you were hurt. Light, I'd never hear the end of it." He was chuckling as he said this. He put on a ridiculous voice that apparently was supposed to be Joseph.
"'It was those damn greenskins, I just know it!'" Kali snorted. "Poor guy's head is so far up his ass, he can't see past his own shit." The children gasped. Louis laughed nervously. "Uh, pardon my language. Just a little agitated is all."
"Why?" the girl asked, yawning. Her eyes were starting to get that glazed-over look that happens when one is very sleepy (which was understandable in her case- it was nearly evening and she had missed her nap).
"Well, y'see, I got into an argument with Joey earlier," he explained sheepishly. "Normally he's a nice guy, but he can be so pig-headed sometimes." Elpis yawned again, then so did Ourruk.
"Ourruk, why don't you head back?" his mother said, picking up the girl and straddling her on her hip. The girl sagged against the boy's mother appreciatively, slinging her arms over the woman's shoulders and using her shoulder as a pillow. The boy started to groan but his mother gave him a stern look so he headed back, grumbling. The girl waved feebly at him, and he waved back, knowing full well that there was slim chance he'd see her ever again.
To say that the paladin was at the end of his robe would be a massive understatement.
Father William would have his hide for this. He hadn't even had the girl for a whole day, and he'd already lost her. The priest clearly wasn't kidding when he said the child 'tended to wander.' Light, why didn't he listen to him? He shuddered to think of what could've happened to Elpis. What if she wandered out of the keep? Or worse, into the prisoner's camp?
He ran around the base two more times before he even considered going down there. It took him another three to convince himself to go.
So when he finally forced himself to go through the gate that led to the hellhole of a living space occupied by the orcs and saw Louis and a she-orc waiting there, he nearly shat a brick.
The she-orc was holding what had to be a human child, and Louis was smirking. (He had the strangest urge to punch the guy when he saw it.)
"Louis-" he started. "Where did you-"
"She was playing with my son when I found her," the she-orc said in very clear Common. Joseph did a double-take, and she rolled her surprisingly warm, brown eyes (he always remembered orcs having glowing red eyes that came off as cold and murderous). "There is a reason your language is called 'Common,' human. Don't act as if your kind is the only one capable of learning it." Louis snorted. The noise stirred the child, who looked up sleepily. The orc brushed the girl's hair out of her eyes, and the girl blinked several times as she did so. She recognized Joseph and went back to sleep.
Joseph was having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that orcs were capable of being motherly.
The she-orc lifted the child from her hip and passed her to the paladin, despite the paladin being not quite there and the child whining in protest of being moved.
"You should watch your ward more carefully," she scolded. "She tends to wander." Joseph nodded without really knowing that he had done so. The woman sighed and started to walk away.
"Don't we have something to say, Joey?" Louis teased obnoxiously. It was then that the paladin had a realization.
"Thank you," he called after her. She merely waved a hand and kept going.
"Jerkface," Elpis murmured under her breath, still technically asleep. She clutched at her green shoes more tightly, dreaming of her newfound friend and the next time she would visit. (Or perhaps he would visit her, she hoped. Perhaps Father William and Joseph would realize that they were people and not demons, and they could play together without old men and old grudges yelling at them to stop. Perhaps she would be a shaman when she grew up and him a paladin, and finally everyone would realize that they weren't so different, that they were never different at all.)
"See," Louis teased. "Was that so hard?"
Joseph glared at his friend exasperatedly, and the girl called 'hope' continued to dream.