Garmantua

It was the blood that signaled that another end had begun.
She tried—without success—not to look, but in the end, she couldn’t help it, and wailed.
A mother always cried when she lost a child.
This would be her third.
And now she would stand trial.
She struggled to maintain her composure as she knelt by the river and watched as the blood slid from between her legs and into the waters below. Her reflection—that of a woman who had lost it all—looked back at her, all green skin and black eyes. Tortured were her features, ugly in the throes of mourning, and though she tried her hardest not to gaze into the abandon that was her grieving reflection, she could not help but see the one thing she could have never imagined.
Fear.
Fear—for having lost yet another; for her body betraying her once again; for having, in their eyes, ‘sacrificed an unwilling life to the Gods.’ It was an emotion that had only been painted on her features a few times—once, when it had happened, and again, when it had happened a second time.
Now, on this hallowed morning, she would return to her tribe and declare that she had lost her third.
Then it would all begin.
She tried, without success, to maintain control of her emotions as she held what little of it remained, a fragile being of unformed tissue. This was to have been a person, had she been able to carry it to term. But the Gods had seen fit to plague her with yet another.
An unborn, she thought. My curse.
“My child,” she said.
She wailed, then, and bowed her head, almost into her bloodied hands, as the emotions threatened to overwhelm her. She knew she had to be quiet—that she had to keep from summoning others. Yet the pain—it was unbearable. It was not even the physical aches that pained her so. No. It was the emotion—that of which she often refused to feel—that tore her world asunder, that carved into her flesh the thoughts of the tribe. Women weren’t spared here, not when they could not carry children. And it was for that reason that she mourned.
She struggled for the next several moments to regain her composure—knowing, above all else, that she had to give what little there was of her child a proper, Orcan burial. With that in mind, she rose and began to cross the river, her bare feet disturbing the minnows that had come to feast upon her blood and the shifting waters amongst her ankles causing them to dart away. The strength in her legs was all but gone. But she had to do it—for him, for her, for the third who had not survived.
She reached a point near the forest’s edge—near where, in years past, she had buried the others. Their graves could no longer be seen. Unmarked, they could never be found. And undisturbed they would remain for the test of time.
It was this that she found solace in as she entered the wood, then bent to deposit the remains of her third child in the cloth wrapping that had once adorned her sex. With trembling hands she began to dig through the soft, fertile earth between the roots of the deciduous trees above—preparing, with painstaking progress, a grave fit for a child so small. Once she deemed it large enough to fit—and deep enough to where the child would not be ravaged by the blights of the world—she took the cloth with the remains in her hand and lowered it into the earth.
She tried to summon words to her lips—to conjure an image of something great and everlasting, of something grand and demure, of a time and place splendid and pure. Instead, all that she could say was, “I’m sorry.”
The child could not—and would never—speak back.
It was for this reason that, through tears, she parted the earth over the remains and then topped it with rocks to keep the beasts of nature at bay.
When she withdrew, she looked upon the base of the tree and cried.
It was here where the other two had been buried, and it was here where the third would remain.
As she stepped out of the wood, toward the stream that separated her tribal grounds from the rest of the island, the Nameless Orc set her eyes on the campfires in the distance and began to make her way forward.
She would face them, regardless of what she felt.
And when it came time for her punishment to be delivered, she would accept it wholeheartedly.
She was the one who could not give birth.
What an injustice it was.

She stumbled along the edge of the campgrounds until she came to the hut that housed the healer. Defeated, both emotionally and physically, she entered, then slumped to the floor, tears in her eyes and blood on her legs.
“Child,” the healer said, taking the Nameless Orc into her arms. “What’s happened?”
“My third,” the Nameless Orc said.
It only took one look between her legs to know what the Nameless Orc had meant. “Come,” the healer said, helping her to her feet and then atop a series of furs that served as a bed. “Let me tend to you.”
The Nameless Orc didn’t know why the healer even bothered. She was to be sentenced to death for her inability to carry to term. It seemed worthless to tend to her—to clean her wounds, to ease her pains, to dull the burdens upon her body. To the Nameless Orc, it seemed akin to cleaning a pig before the slaughter.
“Don’t,” the Nameless Orc said as the healer conjured upon her hands green light.
“I mean to ease your pains,” the healer replied. “Please, child—let me do this.”
The Nameless Orc said nothing as she closed her eyes, but grimaced as the healer guided her magicked hands along her body in an effort to assuage the pain from her abdomen. The feeling was intense—like bathing within sunlight upon a hot rock—and did little to actually ease the pain, most of which wasn’t physical. Rather than complain, however, she allowed the healer to do this, then closed her eyes when the sensation of being kissed by the overhead sun passed.
“Stay here,” the healer said.
The Nameless Orc didn’t need to nod or say anything as the healer left the hut and disappeared into the outside world. She knew what was coming—the judgment that was to follow. It would likely come on swift wings, stampeding into the hut to berate her for losing yet another. But she wouldn’t dwell upon that. Instead, she merely lay there and cried.
Her sobs—most of which had escaped her during the initial phases of her miscarriage—eventually faded away until they were nothing more than startled whimpers and sniffles. She was fading—edging her way into the mists that were dream. If only she could escape into them, be free of this feeling for but one moment, maybe then she—
Their footsteps were what roused her from thought.
“Another?” the rough voice of an Orc by the name of Boar’s Talon said. “A goddamned ‘nother?”
“She cannot help what her body does,” the healer replied. “Please, Boar’s Talon. Let her sleep. She has just suffered an immense loss.”
“She will sleep when she dies,” Boar’s Talon replied, his deep voice punctual and filled with biting malice. His harsh breaths filled the silent space and caused the Nameless Orc to squirm—not in pain, but anticipation for the beating that was to come.
He kicked her, once—hard.
The pain was enough to make her scream.
“Another?” Boar’s Talon asked as he took hold of her dreadlocks. “Another?”
“I’m sorry,” the Nameless Orc said. “I didn’t… I tried—”
“You didn’t try hard enough,” he said, then dropped her with a thud.
The Nameless Orc tried to curl into a fetal position to avoid anymore beatings, but found herself unable to do so for the pain that wracked her midsection.
It was his child that she had lost, his baby whom she’d buried in the far woods. His anger was palpable—even reasonable, in a wicked sense. Her body had betrayed him just as much as it’d betrayed her. Yet what could she do but mourn?
She opened her eyes to find Boar’s Talon, chieftain of the Bloodkin clan, staring right at her. “You will be executed when the sun rises tomorrow for your incompetence,” the bull said.
The Nameless Orc said nothing as she stared into Boar’s Talon’s pitch black eyes.
Then he was gone—out the door and away from the hut.
“I’m sorry,” the healer said, cradling the Nameless Orc’s head as she began to sob once more. “I tried to keep him at bay.”
“It was your duty,” the Nameless Orc replied. “Your purpose.”
“I understand. But he was cruel, and he was callous. Surely he could have spared you when you are already in so much pain.”
The Nameless Orc said nothing. Rather, she allowed the healer to guide her dreadlocks from her face and down the curves of her bony shoulders and remained silent as she struggled to breathe evenly.
Her death was to occur in less than a day.
Her incompetence—it was unrivaled.
Other women could bear children. Why couldn’t she?
Because I’m cursed, she thought. Because the Gods gave me a body that does not wish to birth.
As the healer drew away, settling her head into the furs and stroking her hands over her pronounced cheekbones, the Nameless Orc closed her eyes and sighed.
What could she do but await her death?

She lay in the healer’s bed for what felt like hours, processing the feelings rapidly cycling through her mind as the sun fell across the horizon. Morning faded, noon came, evening fell. Soup was offered but was refused and the Nameless Orc pushed herself from bed.
“You shouldn’t go,” the healer said.
“There are others you could tend to,” the Nameless Orc replied. “Hunters. The other women. The children.”
“You are the one whom I am caring for at this moment. Please—rest. Your body will thank you for it.”
“I will be dead once the sun rises.”
The healer sighed and gestured toward the furs. “Please,” she said. “Lay back down. Humor an old Orc.”
The Nameless Orc did as the healer asked, settling upon the furs and drawing them around herself. The fire that burned in the center of the hut flickered as a breeze blew in through the hide surrounding them and threatened to be extinguished, but wasn’t. Instead, it merely continued to burn brightly—much like the Nameless Orc’s pain for having lost yet another child.
“You know,” the healer said. “There is one way you could spare yourself.”
“Why would I wish to avoid the consequence of death?” the Nameless Orc asked. “I am useless without my body.”
“Never say such a thing, child. You are only useless if you believe yourself to be.”
“But I—”
The healer pressed a finger to the Nameless Orc’s lips. “Now,” the aging Orc said, drawing her hand away. “Will you be silent and listen?”
The Nameless Orc nodded and waited for her elder to continue.
The healer settled back down into her own assortment of furs and sighed as she looked into the fire. “There is a way,” she began, “that you could live, and through living, give back to the children you were unable to give birth to.”
“How?”
It was this question that brought to life a smile upon the healer’s lips. “You could hunt,” she said, “one of the great beasts, and gain title by slaying it.”
“But the Great Hunts are reserved for the bulls,” the Nameless Orc said.
“But are not refused to the mares if they truly wish to seek it,” the healer replied. She settled her deeply-set black eyes on the Nameless Orc and once again sighed. “You would be offered a timeframe in which you could slay this creature, if you could decide what it is you wish to slay, but it must be a great beast, and must be something you feel you could conquer.”
“But what beast is there that has not been claimed?” the Nameless Orc asked.
The healer didn’t reply. She merely stared into the fire and watched the flames dance.
The Nameless Orc stared into the fire alongside her healer and considered this option wholeheartedly. Though she did not wish to die, she felt herself incapable of hunting in her current state of being. Her body was weak, her emotions fractured, her mind threatening to break from the pressure of it all. To find, and then slay, a great beast seemed an impossible task, let alone one she could even begin to conquer. What beast could she claim for a Hunt that was not already claimed? The Fish were taken, the Boars first among many, the Bears and the Wolves only seldom claimed. That could only mean—
The Nameless Orc paused as she considered the final option.
“I see you have come to terms with what I have said,” the healer started, turning her dark eyes on the Nameless Orc.
“The spider,” the Nameless Orc replied.
“Garmantua,” the healer nodded. “The Great Mother.”
She was a being of immense power—of fortitude that would not be challenged even by the greatest of their hunters. She lived in the tunnels to the south of their encampment, preying upon the lesser creatures of the woods and even, at times, their children. Everything had been attempted to drive her from her nest and into the open to be slain. Swords, arrows, fire—nothing had worked. Her tunnels ran deeper than most expected—and that few dared to even enter.
“But how would I,” the Nameless Orc began.
“You would claim this beast as your Hunt,” the healer replied, “and be given a chance to slay her in kind.”
“But I am weak. Sullied. Heartbroken.”
“You are the very creature who can usurp this queen’s throne. I know it.”
“Why are you helping me?” the Nameless Orc asked.
“Because you have suffered losses greater than many of the women—and even the men—could have ever imagined. To have lain to rest three children.” The healer shook his head. “How you have not gone mad I do not know.”
Maybe I am mad, the Nameless Orc thought, and just don’t know it yet.
Was her task even possible? Could she drive the spider from her nest? And if not, could she enter the tunnels and make her way back out of them alive? They said her bite was death, that her kiss was scarlet, that her venom could be sprayed and that her webbing could capture even the most clever of creatures. Surely if she were to enter her lair she would be killed, but would it be any different if she were to die by the sword? At least in battle she could die a warrior.
As the outside wind drew alongside the hut and once again ruffled the flames of the fire, the Nameless Orc looked upon the healer and said, “Why me?”
“Because life is precious,” the healer replied, “and your story has yet to be written.”
“Do you really think I could slay the spider?”
“I think someone has to try, and who better than someone who will lose it all anyway?”
That was a point that couldn’t be argued.
Standing, the Nameless Orc stumbled to the edge of the hut and looked out at the darkness beyond. “Thank you,” she said, “for caring for me.”
“Would you not like to stay the night?” the healer asked. “I will keep you warm, fed, sheltered.”
“I need time to think,” the Nameless Orc said.
The healer only nodded. “Very well,” she said. “Then off you go.”
The Nameless Orc turned and started out of the hut, but not without casting a glance back at the woman who had tended to her so well. “Thank you,” was all she found fit to say, before she turned and started into the darkness.

Sleep did not come easily to her that night, nor did it wish to. Rather, it seemed to elude her in that it would come, stay, then flutter away spontaneously,. It became so apparent that she would not be able to sleep that the Nameless Orc merely lay there in the early hours of the morning—watching as, from her place in her bed, the light brightened and her coming trial drew near.
By the time first light crowned the horizon, the sound of footsteps were already plaguing the air.
Hesitant to rise but knowing that she would be forcefully dragged out anyway were she to resist, the Nameless Orc pushed herself to her feet, stood before the empty fireplace, and awaited the bulls that were to escort her to the ceremonial grounds.
There were three in all, all with title and bearing upon their bodies the scars and marks to prove it. They declared their intentions boldly with grunts and snarls as they looked upon a mare who could not bear children and awaited for her to step forward. The Nameless Orc did this willingly, and  accepted the hands that took hold of her gladly. She had expected this—was waiting for them to inflict their own form of gruesome brutality upon her—and wasn’t about to refuse them the privilege of dragging her through the camp like the battered mother she was.
She relinquished herself to them willingly, and followed as they began to drag her—forcefully, and with much greater strength than they needed—through the camp.
“Bitch,” one of them said.
“Stupid whore,” another added.
The Nameless Orc kept as solid a face as possible as accusations began to fly at her. That she was unfit, that she’d done something wrong, that she’d sabotaged her pregnancy because she was unwilling to be a mother. All of them were untrue—all bold lies that were not to be taken seriously—but with the wound so fresh and gaping, it was hard to ignore their words, barbed as they were. Her tears were what they wanted, and her tears were what they got as she sniffled and tried her hardest not to let too many fall down her face.
As they dragged her through the camp, she was met by stares from the other pregnant women that were a mixture of volatile oppression and complete sadness. Their children—which were plentiful—watched behind their mothers’ legs or from their arms as she was forcefully dragged toward the Culling Grounds where she was supposed to be executed this morning.
But what if they won’t let me? she dangerously thought.
No.
The healer would not fill her with false promises. They would let her hunt, especially if it meant disposing of her in a way that did not have to stain their hands with blood.
They came to the Culling Grounds upon which the rocks stood scarred and vacant and awaited Boar’s Talon as he stepped forward with the axe in hand. “Bitch,” he snarled, narrowing his eyes at her as she was pushed, roughly, to the ground, her head forced against a rock and her eyes turned to face the man who had raped and impregnated her three separate times. “You know why you’re here.”
“I’m aware,” she said.
Boar’s Talon guided a finger along the sharp edge of the headsman’s axe and smiled as his finger slipped away from its blade, drawing the slightest fraction of blood. “I will enjoy killing you,” he said as he hefted the blade over his shoulder. “I’ll avenge my children that you killed.”
“I did not kill them,” the Nameless Orc said. “I would never.”
“Lies!” Boar’s Talon cried, taking hold of the axe in both hands. “Deceit! I will kill you where you lie, you pathetic wench.”
“I wish to invoke the Great Hunt.”
The crowd gasped as one.
Boar’s Talon—armed and ready to remove her head with but one blow—tensed and then lowered his weapon until its blade touched the ground. “You?” he asked, a laugh in his voice. “Invoke a Great Hunt?”
“I wish to kill Garmantua of the Silver Hills.”
Again, a gasp from the crowd, but this time Boar’s Talon snarled and dropped his axe to the ground. “Bitch!” he roared. “BITCH!”
The hands that were holding her to the execution stone released her. The Nameless Orc then stood and faced Boar’s Talon head-on. Though their height difference was minimal, he still towered over her in presence alone. As the chieftain, most of one’s power came from intimidation, and Boar’s Talon could intimidate like the best of them.
“I wish to invoke the right gifted to all Orcs by our forefathers,” the Nameless Orc continued anew. “I declare Garmantua—Great Spider, Queen of Poison—of the Silver Hills as my Hunt. How long do I have to slay this beast?”
Boar’s Talon tensed—the large vein in his neck throbbing with rage. “One fortnight,” he said, the snarl in his voice calming as his silent rage took over. “As chieftain of the Bloodkin clan, I hereby allow you to hunt Garmantua of the Silver Hills. Heed this,” he then said to the hunters who had gathered at the edge of the camp, “and know that any who threaten this mare’s hunt will be executed on sight.”
The hunters nodded solemnly, then drew back as the Nameless Orc began to make her way back toward her hut.
“Orcess,” Boar’s Talon said.
The Nameless Orc turned to face her rapist and chieftain.
“If you do not slay the beast in a fortnight, I will ensure your death will be long and painful.”
“I understand,” she replied.
She turned and walked away, all the while wondering just how she would kill the beast that lived within the tunnels of the Silver Hills.

Back at her hut, she lay quietly while outside the world around her churned. Still struggling with pain and knowing that she would be for the next several days, she tried her hardest to reconcile with herself the fact that she would likely need to visit the healer and found herself grieving once more.
You’re doing the right thing, she thought. Standing up to the bull like that.
It hadn’t felt like it, then, but it did now. It coursed through her like adrenaline—like a victory fought and won and then claimed accordingly. This feeling was what would drive her to flee the Bloodkin grounds and toward the unclaimed Silver Hills—where Garmantua reigned supreme.
And where I will gain my independence from the breeding stock that are the mares.
She trembled, then, as a wave of pain overwhelmed her, and curled into a fetal position while gathering the fur-lined hides around herself. Though it was hot, she felt oh so cold, and for that reason desired nothing more than to slip into sleep and escape the tumultuous chaos that were her thoughts and emotions.
No matter how hard she tried to think otherwise, she could not help but think of all the things she might have done wrong.
The walking—
The running—
The working—
The hunting—
The strenuous labor expected of those not bulging with pregnancy—
All could have contributed to the miscarriage that had occurred no more than a day ago. But what, she wondered, had been the cause? She’d tried to be careful—tried, religiously, to make sure that her body was not overwhelmed—but still, it had happened, and once again she was the grieving mother who was expected to shake it off and recover.
Tears burned at the Nameless Orc’s eyes as she thought of the futures her children could have had—the battles they could have fought, the children they could have sired, the magic they could have cast or the beasts they could have slain. She would know nothing of their lives now that they were gone. It was, in a way, as if they’d never existed.
But they had, she thought. I held them in my hand, buried them in my woods, beneath my tree.
She let out a long, low wail, not bothering to care who or what heard her.
Let them think she was weak.
She’d just lost a child.
She expected no bull to understand her pain.

By nightfall she’d wandered from her hut and began to make her way to the healer’s tent that lay on the opposite edge of the encampment. Ignoring the stares that followed her and the taunts and jeers from the men who admired her body for its physical prowess, the Nameless Orc walked with her head down and her hand braced over her abdomen, signaling to any and all who looked upon her that she was a mare in pain and that she was not to be trifled with. Normally, someone would have come to assist her—as they’d done in the past. But with her body having betrayed her a third time—and her intents for title declared to the entire tribe—she was left to fend for herself during a time when she was fighting for her life moment by moment.
I just need a little longer, she thought, grimacing as a wave of pain moved throughout her uterus and into her abdomen. Just a little while longer.
The pain would dissipate, as it always would, and she would resume life as she had in years past. She was young—barely of proper breeding age when the hips were wide and the breasts full and proper. Her body would recover, eventually.
Outside the healer’s tent, she rang the bone bell that had been meticulously crafted by one of their artists and waited a moment before saying, “Healer.”
“Child,” the healer replied, drawing forth from the darkness. “Please, come. Lie down. You should not be on your feet.”
“I need to gather my strength,” the Nameless Orc said. “I can’t afford to waste time.”
“Garmantua will wait for you. She isn’t going anywhere.”
Still, the Nameless Orc didn’t want to be lying on her back awaiting her punishment for the next fortnight while trying to decide on what would be the best tactic to drive the queen from her lair. She had to act—and soon. If it was believed that she would not be participating in her Hunt, someone could contest her claim and possibly steal it out from under her.
If she dies, the Nameless Orc thought, and I’m not the one who slays her—
Then it would be goodbye to life as she knew it.
As she lay down, spreading herself across the furs and awaiting the healer to administer the healing light treatment that she’d become accustomed to in years past, the Nameless Orc sighed, closed her eyes, and tilted her head up to look at the stars that could be seen peeking through the top of the circular hut.
“There now,” the healer said, guiding her magicked hands along the Nameless Orc’s abdomen. “How does that feel?”
“Better,” she said, her words mere breaths from her lips.
“You will be weak when you go to hunt Garmantua, child. I want you to understand this.”
“I know.”
“You are smart, though. Clever. Cunning. You will find a way to outmaneuver the beast when you enter her lair.”
“I do not worry about the actual Hunt,” the Nameless Orc replied. “I worry about the battle that will come as a result of it.”
“Do you know which weapons you will be taking?”
She’d a bow back in her hut—primed with years of use and honed with the practice she’d received from her own mother in her youth—but would a simple arrow be enough to take down a creature such as the spider queen? It seemed unlikely, and for that reason she would need more than just projectiles in order to defend herself.
“I’ve knives,” the Nameless Orc said. “A bow.”
“That won’t be enough to kill a queen,” the healer said. “You need something stronger. Sturdier. Something that can give you distance between you and she.”
“I’ve no weapon lengthy enough for that.”
“I could offer you my sword, if you would be willing to accept it.”
“I,” the Nameless Orc said, then stopped before she could continue. The healer had drawn toward the far edge of the hut and was unwrapping from its hide a weapon of considerable length. When she returned, the healer revealed to the Nameless Orc a dusky weapon that resembled the clouds in the midnight sky—a blade that was at least three feet long.
“It served me well in my youth,” the healer said, passing it into the Nameless Orc’s hands.
“Thank you,” the Nameless Orc said, clutching the hide-wrapped hilt of the weapon with newfound strength. She tested the weight of the weapon in her grasp with a few simple swings before allowing it to rest at her side. “You may have just saved my life.”
“It is not the blade that will save your life, child, but your prowess in battle.”
“Do you know of her? What she’s like, how she hunts?”
“I only know that she is active at night,” the healer replied, “and that that is when she is seen the most. She is large—roughly the size of the bulls we see grazing in the nearby fields—and that she is black in color with violet accents along her fur. She… is truly formidable, child, and though I have not seen her with my own eyes, I know better than to think that she will be a willing victim.”
“Thank you. For the sword, and for your description.”
“I am unaware if she has a mate,” the healer said as Garma’s eyes began to narrow with exhaustion, “but if others like her are any indication, he would be much smaller, and far less dangerous.”
“I understand.”
“Now sleep,” the healer whispered. “You need your rest. I will keep my eyes on you while you rest.”
The Nameless Orc closed her eyes, drew the fur-lined hides more tightly around her body, and waited for sleep to take her.
It turned out she did not have to wait long.

She slipped out of the healer’s hut in the early hours of the morning, during which time twilight had only just begun and the sun had yet to rise upon the horizon, and returned to her hut, careful not to draw attention for fear of further assault. With the healer’s sword in hand and her sights set on venturing toward the Silver Hills, she stooped and began to gather her personal affects—first her leather armor, which she slid over her chest and around her waist, then her bow and arrows, which she allowed to hang loosely from her torso. She prepared a day’s worth of rations from her personal stockpile of jerky and then began to slide her assortment of daggers into their various sheaths along her boots and ribcage. Finally, she clipped the sword to her side.
By the time she was finished, the Nameless Orc was ready for the hunt.
Remember, the healer had said, your training.
Years of hunting experience had taught her that one always had to anticipate their prey’s next move—be it a wolf, a bear, or even the boar that wandered the woods. If the prey evolved past the stage of the hunted—and as a result became the hunter—then one would most certainly be in a world of trouble.
That isn’t going to happen, the Nameless Orc thought. I’m ready.
Her quiver was full, her blades sharpened, the healer’s sword ready to be drawn at her side. All she needed to do was slide the pack over her shoulder and depart for the Silver Hills.
It would take her several hours to navigate the woods and eventually break free of them to reach her destination.
Was her body ready? Was it really, truly ready?
There’s only one way to find out, she thought.
After flexing her muscles, tightening her core, stretching her legs and shrugging the pack over her shoulder, the Nameless Orc turned and made her way out into the dawn of the new day.
No one was up at this hour of the morning, which gave her the perfect opportunity to sneak away unnoticed. Not that she’d mind being spotted—at least by the women, anyhow. It was the bulls she had to be concerned about. In her current, weakened state, she wouldn’t be able to fight off one, let alone more.
You just have to be quiet, she reminded herself. No one can hear you so long as you keep your steps light and your breaths calm.
Light had yet to breach the horizon, which gave ample cover in spite of the fact that she walked directly in the middle of the road—exposed, in a way, that would have left her completely vulnerable during the daylight hours. In this twilight morning, though, she felt perfectly content—not safe, for she knew that she would not be unburdened until she left the Bloodkin grounds, but comfortable enough to where she felt she wouldn’t be attacked.
Or raped, she thought.
Having experienced it before, it was her greatest fear, her greatest shame. She’d fought and fought the first two times it had occurred, but no mare could compare to a bull. Their height was enormous, their strength unparalleled. They were, as the bulls were always eager to say, pathetic weaklings in comparison. Because of that, she had simply relented when it had occurred the third time, during which she’d merely lain there, prostrating herself to Boar’s Talon. She’d never considered herself simple breeding stock, as she could fight and hunt like the best of them, but she was still female, and as a result, destined for life as a breeding machine.
Unless I gain title, she thought.
If she gained title, she would be removed from the Bloodkin’s breeding stock—and even allowed, if she so desired, the choice of any female she wanted. Not that she wanted a mare of her own—or, as the bulls were so horrible to call them, a personal bitch. She didn’t need someone to prepare her meals, or clean her home, or chop her firewood or stoke her fire. If anything, she might take a mare as a platonic companion, if only to save another from a life of relentless breeding.
The Nameless Orc sighed as she passed the banner that declared the edge of the Bloodkin camp and made her way into the woods—crossing first over the stream that she had shed blood into in days prior, then into the woods where her three children were buried. She briefly considered stopping to mourn them—or at least offer words of comfort to souls that had forever passed from this world—but realized it would be pointless in light of what she was doing and continued onward.
Remain calm, she said. Clear your mind, your heart, your soul.
Still, she felt tears pulling at the corners of her eyes, threatening to send her into yet another fit of wails. But it was too early. The light was only just beginning to shine, and should she reveal her presence through sound, the queen may hear and anticipate her arrival.
“Garmantua,” she whispered, testing the word on her lips.
It would be a fitting name, should she be able to kill the wicked beast that lay in the Silver Hills, and she would wear it as a badge of honor that could not be ripped away regardless of whomever thought was better than she.
With a nod, the Nameless Orc continued her way through the woods, all the while scheming how she would kill the creature whose name she wished to claim.

It was early morning when she finally reached the Silver Hills—named as such for the webbing that crossed their surfaces and caught the light to reflect it back at whomever looked upon it. Outside the tunnels there existed many cocoons in which the unfortunate had been wrapped. Some were decaying, revealing the skeletons and flesh matter within, while others appeared fresh and were writhing. Though part of her was tempted to free whatever creature dwelt within—awaiting, in the later hours of the day, their final departure from the world—the Nameless Orc knew that that would serve very little purpose. She had to use the utmost of caution while she was here, and to do that, would need to be completely silent.
Drawing her bow from over her shoulders, the Nameless Orc nocked an arrow to her bow and began to advance into the field leading up to the Hills.
Fertile grass—ripe for burning should lightning strike its surface—brushed against her boots, threatening to reveal her presence if the queen were truly not in her dwelling.
Calm thyself, she thought. Do not be afraid.
Death was not a lingering curse she wished to face, but she knew that if she were to die—and if it were to occur at the hands of Garmantua the spider queen—it would be long, painful, and drawn-out. She could not afford to be incapacitated by her fangs and the venom within and then be wrapped within her wicked webs. She would rather face death by the headman’s axe than be liquefied alive.
She approached the Silver Hills gingerly, with caution she knew was warranted but would likely be useless once she began to step on the webbing. Though she knew little about the intricacies of her webs, she knew spiders sensed their prey when becoming ensnared within their traps. How far these webs spanned she didn’t know, but as she stepped onto one of them, then lifted her foot to pull away the silvery mess beneath, she shivered as the wind shifted and began to blow her scent due east, away from the Hills in the north.
She drew back the arrow on her bowstring.
She drew a bead along the surface of the tunnel.
Then she waited, for what seemed like hours, awaiting the beast’s summons.
When Garmantua did not appear, the Nameless Orc slid the bow back over her torso, then drew a torch with an oil-soaked cloth around its surface before striking flint to stone.
Flame burst to life at the end of the torch.
She drew her sword.
She started forward.
The webs shifted beneath her feet.
She paused only briefly at the mouth of the tunnel to consider what she was about to do before she continued
The flames licked the surface of the tunnel as she started in, drawing smoke along the ceiling and producing an acrid odor within the air.
Shit, she thought.
She lowered her torch, then, and brandished her sword in front of her like a spear, only occasionally trailing her eyes toward the sides of the tunnels in order to view the landscape around her. The topography was slight—straightforward in that the tunnel had been meticulously hollowed out and that it only branched in three other directions—but it was forward where her senses drew her, where her eyes caught sight of discretions in the webbing that revealed a recent evacuation and then return.
It would be sooner, rather than later, that she would meet the beast.
The Nameless Orc swallowed the lump that developed in her throat.
She paused.
She waited.
She considered the many outcomes that could occur as a result of her meeting the creature.
She heard her rather than saw her at first—shuffling along the landscape that was her personal domain and shifting the webbing along the edges of the tunnels. Though her movements did not indicate that she was awake, it did determine that Garmantua was slightly active, which could prove deadly if she were not careful.
Holding her torch forward with the knowledge that fire could drive back any beast, the Nameless Orc stepped forward, into the nest.
Then she saw her.
She was the size of a small cow and bore black fur whose accents could be determined as violet within the light streaming from the Nameless Orc’s torch. Beautiful in that she was a stunning creation of nature but deadly in that her wicked fangs could be seen gleaming from her jaws, the Nameless Orc stepped forward and pressed her foot down as hard as she could on the webbing to summon Garmantua’s attention.
The spider jerked.
The Orcess lunged.
The spider turned and knocked her over with a sprawling leg.
The breath left her lungs as she hit the ground and a jarring pain tore through her uterus. Unable to pause to catch her breath, she rolled over, torch in hand, and set the webbing in front of her ablaze as the spider reared her ugly head and her glimmering purple fangs.
“Ugly wench,” the Nameless Orc said. “I will kill you and take what is rightfully mine—my life and my name!”
The spider screeched and stumbled back, waving her feelers in an effort to subdue the fires before her. As she did this, the Nameless Orc got to her feet and stumbled, sword in hand, toward and then through the flames.
The spider lunged.
The Orc dodged.
She tore her sword along one of its legs and was met with green blood.
The spider roared—if that were even possible, though Garma did not know—as the pain cut through her body and as she rotated to face the Orc. Lunging, ever so carefully, over the flames, she stabbed her fangs down toward the Nameless Orc’s back and just barely missed delivering a killing blow.
Liquid stung It was the blood that signaled that another end had begun.
She tried—without success—not to look, but in the end, she couldn’t help it, and wailed.
A mother always cried when she lost a child.
This would be her third.
And now she would stand trial.
She struggled to maintain her composure as she knelt by the river and watched as the blood slid from between her legs and into the waters below. Her reflection—that of a woman who had lost it all—looked back at her, all green skin and black eyes. Tortured were her features, ugly in the throes of mourning, and though she tried her hardest not to gaze into the abandon that was her grieving reflection, she could not help but see the one thing she could have never imagined.
Fear.
Fear—for having lost yet another; for her body betraying her once again; for having, in their eyes, ‘sacrificed an unwilling life to the Gods.’ It was an emotion that had only been painted on her features a few times—once, when it had happened, and again, when it had happened a second time.
Now, on this hallowed morning, she would return to her tribe and declare that she had lost her third.
Then it would all begin.
She tried, without success, to maintain control of her emotions as she held what little of it remained, a fragile being of unformed tissue. This was to have been a person, had she been able to carry it to term. But the Gods had seen fit to plague her with yet another.
An unborn, she thought. My curse.
“My child,” she said.
She wailed, then, and bowed her head, almost into her bloodied hands, as the emotions threatened to overwhelm her. She knew she had to be quiet—that she had to keep from summoning others. Yet the pain—it was unbearable. It was not even the physical aches that pained her so. No. It was the emotion—that of which she often refused to feel—that tore her world asunder, that carved into her flesh the thoughts of the tribe. Women weren’t spared here, not when they could not carry children. And it was for that reason that she mourned.
She struggled for the next several moments to regain her composure—knowing, above all else, that she had to give what little there was of her child a proper, Orcan burial. With that in mind, she rose and began to cross the river, her bare feet disturbing the minnows that had come to feast upon her blood and the shifting waters amongst her ankles causing them to dart away. The strength in her legs was all but gone. But she had to do it—for him, for her, for the third who had not survived.
She reached a point near the forest’s edge—near where, in years past, she had buried the others. Their graves could no longer be seen. Unmarked, they could never be found. And undisturbed they would remain for the test of time.
It was this that she found solace in as she entered the wood, then bent to deposit the remains of her third child in the cloth wrapping that had once adorned her sex. With trembling hands she began to dig through the soft, fertile earth between the roots of the deciduous trees above—preparing, with painstaking progress, a grave fit for a child so small. Once she deemed it large enough to fit—and deep enough to where the child would not be ravaged by the blights of the world—she took the cloth with the remains in her hand and lowered it into the earth.
She tried to summon words to her lips—to conjure an image of something great and everlasting, of something grand and demure, of a time and place splendid and pure. Instead, all that she could say was, “I’m sorry.”
The child could not—and would never—speak back.
It was for this reason that, through tears, she parted the earth over the remains and then topped it with rocks to keep the beasts of nature at bay.
When she withdrew, she looked upon the base of the tree and cried.
It was here where the other two had been buried, and it was here where the third would remain.
As she stepped out of the wood, toward the stream that separated her tribal grounds from the rest of the island, the Nameless Orc set her eyes on the campfires in the distance and began to make her way forward.
She would face them, regardless of what she felt.
And when it came time for her punishment to be delivered, she would accept it wholeheartedly.
She was the one who could not give birth.
What an injustice it was.

She stumbled along the edge of the campgrounds until she came to the hut that housed the healer. Defeated, both emotionally and physically, she entered, then slumped to the floor, tears in her eyes and blood on her legs.
“Child,” the healer said, taking the Nameless Orc into her arms. “What’s happened?”
“My third,” the Nameless Orc said.
It only took one look between her legs to know what the Nameless Orc had meant. “Come,” the healer said, helping her to her feet and then atop a series of furs that served as a bed. “Let me tend to you.”
The Nameless Orc didn’t know why the healer even bothered. She was to be sentenced to death for her inability to carry to term. It seemed worthless to tend to her—to clean her wounds, to ease her pains, to dull the burdens upon her body. To the Nameless Orc, it seemed akin to cleaning a pig before the slaughter.
“Don’t,” the Nameless Orc said as the healer conjured upon her hands green light.
“I mean to ease your pains,” the healer replied. “Please, child—let me do this.”
The Nameless Orc said nothing as she closed her eyes, but grimaced as the healer guided her magicked hands along her body in an effort to assuage the pain from her abdomen. The feeling was intense—like bathing within sunlight upon a hot rock—and did little to actually ease the pain, most of which wasn’t physical. Rather than complain, however, she allowed the healer to do this, then closed her eyes when the sensation of being kissed by the overhead sun passed.
“Stay here,” the healer said.
The Nameless Orc didn’t need to nod or say anything as the healer left the hut and disappeared into the outside world. She knew what was coming—the judgment that was to follow. It would likely come on swift wings, stampeding into the hut to berate her for losing yet another. But she wouldn’t dwell upon that. Instead, she merely lay there and cried.
Her sobs—most of which had escaped her during the initial phases of her miscarriage—eventually faded away until they were nothing more than startled whimpers and sniffles. She was fading—edging her way into the mists that were dream. If only she could escape into them, be free of this feeling for but one moment, maybe then she—
Their footsteps were what roused her from thought.
“Another?” the rough voice of an Orc by the name of Boar’s Talon said. “A goddamned ‘nother?”
“She cannot help what her body does,” the healer replied. “Please, Boar’s Talon. Let her sleep. She has just suffered an immense loss.”
“She will sleep when she dies,” Boar’s Talon replied, his deep voice punctual and filled with biting malice. His harsh breaths filled the silent space and caused the Nameless Orc to squirm—not in pain, but anticipation for the beating that was to come.
He kicked her, once—hard.
The pain was enough to make her scream.
“Another?” Boar’s Talon asked as he took hold of her dreadlocks. “Another?”
“I’m sorry,” the Nameless Orc said. “I didn’t… I tried—”
“You didn’t try hard enough,” he said, then dropped her with a thud.
The Nameless Orc tried to curl into a fetal position to avoid anymore beatings, but found herself unable to do so for the pain that wracked her midsection.
It was his child that she had lost, his baby whom she’d buried in the far woods. His anger was palpable—even reasonable, in a wicked sense. Her body had betrayed him just as much as it’d betrayed her. Yet what could she do but mourn?
She opened her eyes to find Boar’s Talon, chieftain of the Bloodkin clan, staring right at her. “You will be executed when the sun rises tomorrow for your incompetence,” the bull said.
The Nameless Orc said nothing as she stared into Boar’s Talon’s pitch black eyes.
Then he was gone—out the door and away from the hut.
“I’m sorry,” the healer said, cradling the Nameless Orc’s head as she began to sob once more. “I tried to keep him at bay.”
“It was your duty,” the Nameless Orc replied. “Your purpose.”
“I understand. But he was cruel, and he was callous. Surely he could have spared you when you are already in so much pain.”
The Nameless Orc said nothing. Rather, she allowed the healer to guide her dreadlocks from her face and down the curves of her bony shoulders and remained silent as she struggled to breathe evenly.
Her death was to occur in less than a day.
Her incompetence—it was unrivaled.
Other women could bear children. Why couldn’t she?
Because I’m cursed, she thought. Because the Gods gave me a body that does not wish to birth.
As the healer drew away, settling her head into the furs and stroking her hands over her pronounced cheekbones, the Nameless Orc closed her eyes and sighed.
What could she do but await her death?

She lay in the healer’s bed for what felt like hours, processing the feelings rapidly cycling through her mind as the sun fell across the horizon. Morning faded, noon came, evening fell. Soup was offered but was refused and the Nameless Orc pushed herself from bed.
“You shouldn’t go,” the healer said.
“There are others you could tend to,” the Nameless Orc replied. “Hunters. The other women. The children.”
“You are the one whom I am caring for at this moment. Please—rest. Your body will thank you for it.”
“I will be dead once the sun rises.”
The healer sighed and gestured toward the furs. “Please,” she said. “Lay back down. Humor an old Orc.”
The Nameless Orc did as the healer asked, settling upon the furs and drawing them around herself. The fire that burned in the center of the hut flickered as a breeze blew in through the hide surrounding them and threatened to be extinguished, but wasn’t. Instead, it merely continued to burn brightly—much like the Nameless Orc’s pain for having lost yet another child.
“You know,” the healer said. “There is one way you could spare yourself.”
“Why would I wish to avoid the consequence of death?” the Nameless Orc asked. “I am useless without my body.”
“Never say such a thing, child. You are only useless if you believe yourself to be.”
“But I—”
The healer pressed a finger to the Nameless Orc’s lips. “Now,” the aging Orc said, drawing her hand away. “Will you be silent and listen?”
The Nameless Orc nodded and waited for her elder to continue.
The healer settled back down into her own assortment of furs and sighed as she looked into the fire. “There is a way,” she began, “that you could live, and through living, give back to the children you were unable to give birth to.”
“How?”
It was this question that brought to life a smile upon the healer’s lips. “You could hunt,” she said, “one of the great beasts, and gain title by slaying it.”
“But the Great Hunts are reserved for the bulls,” the Nameless Orc said.
“But are not refused to the mares if they truly wish to seek it,” the healer replied. She settled her deeply-set black eyes on the Nameless Orc and once again sighed. “You would be offered a timeframe in which you could slay this creature, if you could decide what it is you wish to slay, but it must be a great beast, and must be something you feel you could conquer.”
“But what beast is there that has not been claimed?” the Nameless Orc asked.
The healer didn’t reply. She merely stared into the fire and watched the flames dance.
The Nameless Orc stared into the fire alongside her healer and considered this option wholeheartedly. Though she did not wish to die, she felt herself incapable of hunting in her current state of being. Her body was weak, her emotions fractured, her mind threatening to break from the pressure of it all. To find, and then slay, a great beast seemed an impossible task, let alone one she could even begin to conquer. What beast could she claim for a Hunt that was not already claimed? The Fish were taken, the Boars first among many, the Bears and the Wolves only seldom claimed. That could only mean—
The Nameless Orc paused as she considered the final option.
“I see you have come to terms with what I have said,” the healer started, turning her dark eyes on the Nameless Orc.
“The spider,” the Nameless Orc replied.
“Garmantua,” the healer nodded. “The Great Mother.”
She was a being of immense power—of fortitude that would not be challenged even by the greatest of their hunters. She lived in the tunnels to the south of their encampment, preying upon the lesser creatures of the woods and even, at times, their children. Everything had been attempted to drive her from her nest and into the open to be slain. Swords, arrows, fire—nothing had worked. Her tunnels ran deeper than most expected—and that few dared to even enter.
“But how would I,” the Nameless Orc began.
“You would claim this beast as your Hunt,” the healer replied, “and be given a chance to slay her in kind.”
“But I am weak. Sullied. Heartbroken.”
“You are the very creature who can usurp this queen’s throne. I know it.”
“Why are you helping me?” the Nameless Orc asked.
“Because you have suffered losses greater than many of the women—and even the men—could have ever imagined. To have lain to rest three children.” The healer shook his head. “How you have not gone mad I do not know.”
Maybe I am mad, the Nameless Orc thought, and just don’t know it yet.
Was her task even possible? Could she drive the spider from her nest? And if not, could she enter the tunnels and make her way back out of them alive? They said her bite was death, that her kiss was scarlet, that her venom could be sprayed and that her webbing could capture even the most clever of creatures. Surely if she were to enter her lair she would be killed, but would it be any different if she were to die by the sword? At least in battle she could die a warrior.
As the outside wind drew alongside the hut and once again ruffled the flames of the fire, the Nameless Orc looked upon the healer and said, “Why me?”
“Because life is precious,” the healer replied, “and your story has yet to be written.”
“Do you really think I could slay the spider?”
“I think someone has to try, and who better than someone who will lose it all anyway?”
That was a point that couldn’t be argued.
Standing, the Nameless Orc stumbled to the edge of the hut and looked out at the darkness beyond. “Thank you,” she said, “for caring for me.”
“Would you not like to stay the night?” the healer asked. “I will keep you warm, fed, sheltered.”
“I need time to think,” the Nameless Orc said.
The healer only nodded. “Very well,” she said. “Then off you go.”
The Nameless Orc turned and started out of the hut, but not without casting a glance back at the woman who had tended to her so well. “Thank you,” was all she found fit to say, before she turned and started into the darkness.

Sleep did not come easily to her that night, nor did it wish to. Rather, it seemed to elude her in that it would come, stay, then flutter away spontaneously,. It became so apparent that she would not be able to sleep that the Nameless Orc merely lay there in the early hours of the morning—watching as, from her place in her bed, the light brightened and her coming trial drew near.
By the time first light crowned the horizon, the sound of footsteps were already plaguing the air.
Hesitant to rise but knowing that she would be forcefully dragged out anyway were she to resist, the Nameless Orc pushed herself to her feet, stood before the empty fireplace, and awaited the bulls that were to escort her to the ceremonial grounds.
There were three in all, all with title and bearing upon their bodies the scars and marks to prove it. They declared their intentions boldly with grunts and snarls as they looked upon a mare who could not bear children and awaited for her to step forward. The Nameless Orc did this willingly, and  accepted the hands that took hold of her gladly. She had expected this—was waiting for them to inflict their own form of gruesome brutality upon her—and wasn’t about to refuse them the privilege of dragging her through the camp like the battered mother she was.
She relinquished herself to them willingly, and followed as they began to drag her—forcefully, and with much greater strength than they needed—through the camp.
“Bitch,” one of them said.
“Stupid whore,” another added.
The Nameless Orc kept as solid a face as possible as accusations began to fly at her. That she was unfit, that she’d done something wrong, that she’d sabotaged her pregnancy because she was unwilling to be a mother. All of them were untrue—all bold lies that were not to be taken seriously—but with the wound so fresh and gaping, it was hard to ignore their words, barbed as they were. Her tears were what they wanted, and her tears were what they got as she sniffled and tried her hardest not to let too many fall down her face.
As they dragged her through the camp, she was met by stares from the other pregnant women that were a mixture of volatile oppression and complete sadness. Their children—which were plentiful—watched behind their mothers’ legs or from their arms as she was forcefully dragged toward the Culling Grounds where she was supposed to be executed this morning.
But what if they won’t let me? she dangerously thought.
No.
The healer would not fill her with false promises. They would let her hunt, especially if it meant disposing of her in a way that did not have to stain their hands with blood.
They came to the Culling Grounds upon which the rocks stood scarred and vacant and awaited Boar’s Talon as he stepped forward with the axe in hand. “Bitch,” he snarled, narrowing his eyes at her as she was pushed, roughly, to the ground, her head forced against a rock and her eyes turned to face the man who had raped and impregnated her three separate times. “You know why you’re here.”
“I’m aware,” she said.
Boar’s Talon guided a finger along the sharp edge of the headsman’s axe and smiled as his finger slipped away from its blade, drawing the slightest fraction of blood. “I will enjoy killing you,” he said as he hefted the blade over his shoulder. “I’ll avenge my children that you killed.”
“I did not kill them,” the Nameless Orc said. “I would never.”
“Lies!” Boar’s Talon cried, taking hold of the axe in both hands. “Deceit! I will kill you where you lie, you pathetic wench.”
“I wish to invoke the Great Hunt.”
The crowd gasped as one.
Boar’s Talon—armed and ready to remove her head with but one blow—tensed and then lowered his weapon until its blade touched the ground. “You?” he asked, a laugh in his voice. “Invoke a Great Hunt?”
“I wish to kill Garmantua of the Silver Hills.”
Again, a gasp from the crowd, but this time Boar’s Talon snarled and dropped his axe to the ground. “Bitch!” he roared. “BITCH!”
The hands that were holding her to the execution stone released her. The Nameless Orc then stood and faced Boar’s Talon head-on. Though their height difference was minimal, he still towered over her in presence alone. As the chieftain, most of one’s power came from intimidation, and Boar’s Talon could intimidate like the best of them.
“I wish to invoke the right gifted to all Orcs by our forefathers,” the Nameless Orc continued anew. “I declare Garmantua—Great Spider, Queen of Poison—of the Silver Hills as my Hunt. How long do I have to slay this beast?”
Boar’s Talon tensed—the large vein in his neck throbbing with rage. “One fortnight,” he said, the snarl in his voice calming as his silent rage took over. “As chieftain of the Bloodkin clan, I hereby allow you to hunt Garmantua of the Silver Hills. Heed this,” he then said to the hunters who had gathered at the edge of the camp, “and know that any who threaten this mare’s hunt will be executed on sight.”
The hunters nodded solemnly, then drew back as the Nameless Orc began to make her way back toward her hut.
“Orcess,” Boar’s Talon said.
The Nameless Orc turned to face her rapist and chieftain.
“If you do not slay the beast in a fortnight, I will ensure your death will be long and painful.”
“I understand,” she replied.
She turned and walked away, all the while wondering just how she would kill the beast that lived within the tunnels of the Silver Hills.

Back at her hut, she lay quietly while outside the world around her churned. Still struggling with pain and knowing that she would be for the next several days, she tried her hardest to reconcile with herself the fact that she would likely need to visit the healer and found herself grieving once more.
You’re doing the right thing, she thought. Standing up to the bull like that.
It hadn’t felt like it, then, but it did now. It coursed through her like adrenaline—like a victory fought and won and then claimed accordingly. This feeling was what would drive her to flee the Bloodkin grounds and toward the unclaimed Silver Hills—where Garmantua reigned supreme.
And where I will gain my independence from the breeding stock that are the mares.
She trembled, then, as a wave of pain overwhelmed her, and curled into a fetal position while gathering the fur-lined hides around herself. Though it was hot, she felt oh so cold, and for that reason desired nothing more than to slip into sleep and escape the tumultuous chaos that were her thoughts and emotions.
No matter how hard she tried to think otherwise, she could not help but think of all the things she might have done wrong.
The walking—
The running—
The working—
The hunting—
The strenuous labor expected of those not bulging with pregnancy—
All could have contributed to the miscarriage that had occurred no more than a day ago. But what, she wondered, had been the cause? She’d tried to be careful—tried, religiously, to make sure that her body was not overwhelmed—but still, it had happened, and once again she was the grieving mother who was expected to shake it off and recover.
Tears burned at the Nameless Orc’s eyes as she thought of the futures her children could have had—the battles they could have fought, the children they could have sired, the magic they could have cast or the beasts they could have slain. She would know nothing of their lives now that they were gone. It was, in a way, as if they’d never existed.
But they had, she thought. I held them in my hand, buried them in my woods, beneath my tree.
She let out a long, low wail, not bothering to care who or what heard her.
Let them think she was weak.
She’d just lost a child.
She expected no bull to understand her pain.

By nightfall she’d wandered from her hut and began to make her way to the healer’s tent that lay on the opposite edge of the encampment. Ignoring the stares that followed her and the taunts and jeers from the men who admired her body for its physical prowess, the Nameless Orc walked with her head down and her hand braced over her abdomen, signaling to any and all who looked upon her that she was a mare in pain and that she was not to be trifled with. Normally, someone would have come to assist her—as they’d done in the past. But with her body having betrayed her a third time—and her intents for title declared to the entire tribe—she was left to fend for herself during a time when she was fighting for her life moment by moment.
I just need a little longer, she thought, grimacing as a wave of pain moved throughout her uterus and into her abdomen. Just a little while longer.
The pain would dissipate, as it always would, and she would resume life as she had in years past. She was young—barely of proper breeding age when the hips were wide and the breasts full and proper. Her body would recover, eventually.
Outside the healer’s tent, she rang the bone bell that had been meticulously crafted by one of their artists and waited a moment before saying, “Healer.”
“Child,” the healer replied, drawing forth from the darkness. “Please, come. Lie down. You should not be on your feet.”
“I need to gather my strength,” the Nameless Orc said. “I can’t afford to waste time.”
“Garmantua will wait for you. She isn’t going anywhere.”
Still, the Nameless Orc didn’t want to be lying on her back awaiting her punishment for the next fortnight while trying to decide on what would be the best tactic to drive the queen from her lair. She had to act—and soon. If it was believed that she would not be participating in her Hunt, someone could contest her claim and possibly steal it out from under her.
If she dies, the Nameless Orc thought, and I’m not the one who slays her—
Then it would be goodbye to life as she knew it.
As she lay down, spreading herself across the furs and awaiting the healer to administer the healing light treatment that she’d become accustomed to in years past, the Nameless Orc sighed, closed her eyes, and tilted her head up to look at the stars that could be seen peeking through the top of the circular hut.
“There now,” the healer said, guiding her magicked hands along the Nameless Orc’s abdomen. “How does that feel?”
“Better,” she said, her words mere breaths from her lips.
“You will be weak when you go to hunt Garmantua, child. I want you to understand this.”
“I know.”
“You are smart, though. Clever. Cunning. You will find a way to outmaneuver the beast when you enter her lair.”
“I do not worry about the actual Hunt,” the Nameless Orc replied. “I worry about the battle that will come as a result of it.”
“Do you know which weapons you will be taking?”
She’d a bow back in her hut—primed with years of use and honed with the practice she’d received from her own mother in her youth—but would a simple arrow be enough to take down a creature such as the spider queen? It seemed unlikely, and for that reason she would need more than just projectiles in order to defend herself.
“I’ve knives,” the Nameless Orc said. “A bow.”
“That won’t be enough to kill a queen,” the healer said. “You need something stronger. Sturdier. Something that can give you distance between you and she.”
“I’ve no weapon lengthy enough for that.”
“I could offer you my sword, if you would be willing to accept it.”
“I,” the Nameless Orc said, then stopped before she could continue. The healer had drawn toward the far edge of the hut and was unwrapping from its hide a weapon of considerable length. When she returned, the healer revealed to the Nameless Orc a dusky weapon that resembled the clouds in the midnight sky—a blade that was at least three feet long.
“It served me well in my youth,” the healer said, passing it into the Nameless Orc’s hands.
“Thank you,” the Nameless Orc said, clutching the hide-wrapped hilt of the weapon with newfound strength. She tested the weight of the weapon in her grasp with a few simple swings before allowing it to rest at her side. “You may have just saved my life.”
“It is not the blade that will save your life, child, but your prowess in battle.”
“Do you know of her? What she’s like, how she hunts?”
“I only know that she is active at night,” the healer replied, “and that that is when she is seen the most. She is large—roughly the size of the bulls we see grazing in the nearby fields—and that she is black in color with violet accents along her fur. She… is truly formidable, child, and though I have not seen her with my own eyes, I know better than to think that she will be a willing victim.”
“Thank you. For the sword, and for your description.”
“I am unaware if she has a mate,” the healer said as Garma’s eyes began to narrow with exhaustion, “but if others like her are any indication, he would be much smaller, and far less dangerous.”
“I understand.”
“Now sleep,” the healer whispered. “You need your rest. I will keep my eyes on you while you rest.”
The Nameless Orc closed her eyes, drew the fur-lined hides more tightly around her body, and waited for sleep to take her.
It turned out she did not have to wait long.

She slipped out of the healer’s hut in the early hours of the morning, during which time twilight had only just begun and the sun had yet to rise upon the horizon, and returned to her hut, careful not to draw attention for fear of further assault. With the healer’s sword in hand and her sights set on venturing toward the Silver Hills, she stooped and began to gather her personal affects—first her leather armor, which she slid over her chest and around her waist, then her bow and arrows, which she allowed to hang loosely from her torso. She prepared a day’s worth of rations from her personal stockpile of jerky and then began to slide her assortment of daggers into their various sheaths along her boots and ribcage. Finally, she clipped the sword to her side.
By the time she was finished, the Nameless Orc was ready for the hunt.
Remember, the healer had said, your training.
Years of hunting experience had taught her that one always had to anticipate their prey’s next move—be it a wolf, a bear, or even the boar that wandered the woods. If the prey evolved past the stage of the hunted—and as a result became the hunter—then one would most certainly be in a world of trouble.
That isn’t going to happen, the Nameless Orc thought. I’m ready.
Her quiver was full, her blades sharpened, the healer’s sword ready to be drawn at her side. All she needed to do was slide the pack over her shoulder and depart for the Silver Hills.
It would take her several hours to navigate the woods and eventually break free of them to reach her destination.
Was her body ready? Was it really, truly ready?
There’s only one way to find out, she thought.
After flexing her muscles, tightening her core, stretching her legs and shrugging the pack over her shoulder, the Nameless Orc turned and made her way out into the dawn of the new day.
No one was up at this hour of the morning, which gave her the perfect opportunity to sneak away unnoticed. Not that she’d mind being spotted—at least by the women, anyhow. It was the bulls she had to be concerned about. In her current, weakened state, she wouldn’t be able to fight off one, let alone more.
You just have to be quiet, she reminded herself. No one can hear you so long as you keep your steps light and your breaths calm.
Light had yet to breach the horizon, which gave ample cover in spite of the fact that she walked directly in the middle of the road—exposed, in a way, that would have left her completely vulnerable during the daylight hours. In this twilight morning, though, she felt perfectly content—not safe, for she knew that she would not be unburdened until she left the Bloodkin grounds, but comfortable enough to where she felt she wouldn’t be attacked.
Or raped, she thought.
Having experienced it before, it was her greatest fear, her greatest shame. She’d fought and fought the first two times it had occurred, but no mare could compare to a bull. Their height was enormous, their strength unparalleled. They were, as the bulls were always eager to say, pathetic weaklings in comparison. Because of that, she had simply relented when it had occurred the third time, during which she’d merely lain there, prostrating herself to Boar’s Talon. She’d never considered herself simple breeding stock, as she could fight and hunt like the best of them, but she was still female, and as a result, destined for life as a breeding machine.
Unless I gain title, she thought.
If she gained title, she would be removed from the Bloodkin’s breeding stock—and even allowed, if she so desired, the choice of any female she wanted. Not that she wanted a mare of her own—or, as the bulls were so horrible to call them, a personal bitch. She didn’t need someone to prepare her meals, or clean her home, or chop her firewood or stoke her fire. If anything, she might take a mare as a platonic companion, if only to save another from a life of relentless breeding.
The Nameless Orc sighed as she passed the banner that declared the edge of the Bloodkin camp and made her way into the woods—crossing first over the stream that she had shed blood into in days prior, then into the woods where her three children were buried. She briefly considered stopping to mourn them—or at least offer words of comfort to souls that had forever passed from this world—but realized it would be pointless in light of what she was doing and continued onward.
Remain calm, she said. Clear your mind, your heart, your soul.
Still, she felt tears pulling at the corners of her eyes, threatening to send her into yet another fit of wails. But it was too early. The light was only just beginning to shine, and should she reveal her presence through sound, the queen may hear and anticipate her arrival.
“Garmantua,” she whispered, testing the word on her lips.
It would be a fitting name, should she be able to kill the wicked beast that lay in the Silver Hills, and she would wear it as a badge of honor that could not be ripped away regardless of whomever thought was better than she.
With a nod, the Nameless Orc continued her way through the woods, all the while scheming how she would kill the creature whose name she wished to claim.

It was early morning when she finally reached the Silver Hills—named as such for the webbing that crossed their surfaces and caught the light to reflect it back at whomever looked upon it. Outside the tunnels there existed many cocoons in which the unfortunate had been wrapped. Some were decaying, revealing the skeletons and flesh matter within, while others appeared fresh and were writhing. Though part of her was tempted to free whatever creature dwelt within—awaiting, in the later hours of the day, their final departure from the world—the Nameless Orc knew that that would serve very little purpose. She had to use the utmost of caution while she was here, and to do that, would need to be completely silent.
Drawing her bow from over her shoulders, the Nameless Orc nocked an arrow to her bow and began to advance into the field leading up to the Hills.
Fertile grass—ripe for burning should lightning strike its surface—brushed against her boots, threatening to reveal her presence if the queen were truly not in her dwelling.
Calm thyself, she thought. Do not be afraid.
Death was not a lingering curse she wished to face, but she knew that if she were to die—and if it were to occur at the hands of Garmantua the spider queen—it would be long, painful, and drawn-out. She could not afford to be incapacitated by her fangs and the venom within and then be wrapped within her wicked webs. She would rather face death by the headman’s axe than be liquefied alive.
She approached the Silver Hills gingerly, with caution she knew was warranted but would likely be useless once she began to step on the webbing. Though she knew little about the intricacies of her webs, she knew spiders sensed their prey when becoming ensnared within their traps. How far these webs spanned she didn’t know, but as she stepped onto one of them, then lifted her foot to pull away the silvery mess beneath, she shivered as the wind shifted and began to blow her scent due east, away from the Hills in the north.
She drew back the arrow on her bowstring.
She drew a bead along the surface of the tunnel.
Then she waited, for what seemed like hours, awaiting the beast’s summons.
When Garmantua did not appear, the Nameless Orc slid the bow back over her torso, then drew a torch with an oil-soaked cloth around its surface before striking flint to stone.
Flame burst to life at the end of the torch.
She drew her sword.
She started forward.
The webs shifted beneath her feet.
She paused only briefly at the mouth of the tunnel to consider what she was about to do before she continued
The flames licked the surface of the tunnel as she started in, drawing smoke along the ceiling and producing an acrid odor within the air.
Shit, she thought.
She lowered her torch, then, and brandished her sword in front of her like a spear, only occasionally trailing her eyes toward the sides of the tunnels in order to view the landscape around her. The topography was slight—straightforward in that the tunnel had been meticulously hollowed out and that it only branched in three other directions—but it was forward where her senses drew her, where her eyes caught sight of discretions in the webbing that revealed a recent evacuation and then return.
It would be sooner, rather than later, that she would meet the beast.
The Nameless Orc swallowed the lump that developed in her throat.
She paused.
She waited.
She considered the many outcomes that could occur as a result of her meeting the creature.
She heard her rather than saw her at first—shuffling along the landscape that was her personal domain and shifting the webbing along the edges of the tunnels. Though her movements did not indicate that she was awake, it did determine that Garmantua was slightly active, which could prove deadly if she were not careful.
Holding her torch forward with the knowledge that fire could drive back any beast, the Nameless Orc stepped forward, into the nest.
Then she saw her.
She was the size of a small cow and bore black fur whose accents could be determined as violet within the light streaming from the Nameless Orc’s torch. Beautiful in that she was a stunning creation of nature but deadly in that her wicked fangs could be seen gleaming from her jaws, the Nameless Orc stepped forward and pressed her foot down as hard as she could on the webbing to summon Garmantua’s attention.
The spider jerked.
The Orcess lunged.
The spider turned and knocked her over with a sprawling leg.
The breath left her lungs as she hit the ground and a jarring pain tore through her uterus. Unable to pause to catch her breath, she rolled over, torch in hand, and set the webbing in front of her ablaze as the spider reared her ugly head and her glimmering purple fangs.
“Ugly wench,” the Nameless Orc said. “I will kill you and take what is rightfully mine—my life and my name!”
The spider screeched and stumbled back, waving her feelers in an effort to subdue the fires before her. As she did this, the Nameless Orc got to her feet and stumbled, sword in hand, toward and then through the flames.
The spider lunged.
The Orc dodged.
She tore her sword along one of its legs and was met with green blood.
The spider roared—if that were even possible, though Garma did not know—as the pain cut through her body and as she rotated to face the Orc. Lunging, ever so carefully, over the flames, she stabbed her fangs down toward the Nameless Orc’s back and just barely missed delivering a killing blow.
Liquid stung the Orc’s back.
She winced as the liquid began to bubble along her skin.
Poison, she thought.
She thrust the torch into the creature’s face and was rewarded with flame.
Her sword came next, arcing over her head and into the creature’s eyes.
Blood exploded from the ruined eyeballs.
She stabbed the torch into the gaping wound and was rewarded with yet another scream.
It was now or never, she knew. The creature was enraged. Her lunges had become less calculated, more aggressive. If she were to deliver a killing blow, it had to be now.
Stepping forward, the Nameless Orc hurled the torch under the spider, watched the webbing below burst into flame, then lunged.
Sword pierced exoskeleton.
Bubbling blood ran down her blade.
The Nameless Orc screamed as she tore the blade along Garmantua’s abdomen.
Within moments it was over.
The spider convulsed in death throes, then fell to its side—defeated.
The Nameless Orc—who was now, by victory through combat, named Garmantua—pulled her sword from her Hunt’s abdomen and reached out to draw a sword along her fang.
She sawed.
She stumbled.
The fang came free.
As she held it in her hand, nearly hard as rock and resembling a wicked weapon of its own, Garmantua considered the burning webs around her, then looked back up at the spider cooking in front of her.
“Thank you,” she said, bowing her head. “Through your death my life has been saved.”
She turned, then, and began to make through the tunnels.
As she exited the Silver Hills—and as she considered the conquest that would prove she had slain the creature—she realized something that nearly reduced her to tears.
She was no longer nameless.
She would no longer die.
She was, undoubtedly, alive.
Her name was Garmantua.
And she had survived.the Orc’s back.
She winced as the liquid began to bubble along her skin.
Poison, she thought.
She thrust the torch into the creature’s face and was rewarded with flame.
Her sword came next, arcing over her head and into the creature’s eyes.
Blood exploded from the ruined eyeballs.
She stabbed the torch into the gaping wound and was rewarded with yet another scream.
It was now or never, she knew. The creature was enraged. Her lunges had become less calculated, more aggressive. If she were to deliver a killing blow, it had to be now.
Stepping forward, the Nameless Orc hurled the torch under the spider, watched the webbing below burst into flame, then lunged.
Sword pierced exoskeleton.
Bubbling blood ran down her blade.
The Nameless Orc screamed as she tore the blade along Garmantua’s abdomen.
Within moments it was over.
The spider convulsed in death throes, then fell to its side—defeated.
The Nameless Orc—who was now, by victory through combat, named Garmantua—pulled her sword from her Hunt’s abdomen and reached out to draw a sword along her fang.
She sawed.
She stumbled.
The fang came free.
As she held it in her hand, nearly hard as rock and resembling a wicked weapon of its own, Garmantua considered the burning webs around her, then looked back up at the spider cooking in front of her.
“Thank you,” she said, bowing her head. “Through your death my life has been saved.”
She turned, then, and began to make through the tunnels.
As she exited the Silver Hills—and as she considered the conquest that would prove she had slain the creature—she realized something that nearly reduced her to tears.
She was no longer nameless.
She would no longer die.
She was, undoubtedly, alive.
Her name was Garmantua.
And she had survived.

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