The Graharz awoke with a throbbing head to the whinny of horses. He opened his eyes and glanced around his present location, which quickly proved to be a very dark room… with horses in it. “Hello?”
“You’re up,” said a rather deep woman’s voice.
“I told you he’d be up soon,” said a quiet man’s voice.
“Yes,” said the woman, “but I wasn’t sure if that was your knowledge of illness and injury or that damned optimism of yours.”
“A bit of both,” noted the man.
“Well, props to you, Sir Crookback,” came his brother’s voice. “I was half certain his skull was broken, and I’ve known him long enough to know that’s damn near impossible.”
The Graharz’s eyes were adjusting to the dark, in what he was increasingly certain was a stable. “Aethelstan, why am I here?” he said quietly.
His brother gave a rather awkward cough. “Ahh, yes. It turns out some of the High Hill Folk who were being transported with us had a better grasp of the Dark Tongue than I thought. Which made me less than popular with them.” Aethelstan’s cheerful face popped into view. “There was a dispute, you heard it, and… well, you were you.” He gestured away. “Sir Crookback and his fair lady brought matters to an end, and… brought us here.”
The hunchback hobbled into view. “It isn’t much, I admit, but… it is something.” He peered down at the Graharz, and then offered him one misshapen hand. “Would you like help getting up, sir?”
The Graharz made an effort to rise, then gave a nod. “I think I would.” The hunchback reached down, and the Graharz felt a wiry, astonishingly strong hand loop under his shoulder.
“And up you go,” said the hunchback, lifting the Graharz to his feet.
Aethelstan came to his side, and helped steady him. “Any chance you could help?” he said to Ursula, who was sitting quietly in the corner.
“I will send you my good will,” she said, crossing her left arm before her, then pumping her right fist behind it. “There. Did you see that? Or should I do it again and send more good will?”
“You’ve a formidable lady,” muttered Aethelstan to the hunchback.
“I would not have any other,” he replied, moving away from the brothers towards Ursula.
“Well, we thank you your assistance,” said the Graharz.
“And I thank you for ending that go game,” said Ursula. “I find breaking skulls more entertaining than watching him win.”
The hunchback patted her arm. “You’re getting better.”
“Losing in more moves is still losing,” she muttered.
“We… should be betting back to our… cave,” muttered Aethelstan.
“I will take you there,” said the hunchback. A horse gave a loud whinny, and begin to buck. The hunchback limped over to it, and began to soothingly stroke its head. “Easy, Monoceros,” he said quietly.
The Graharz blinked. “Monoceros?”
“He is blind in one eye,” said the hunchback. “His former owner thought it… an amusing name. And so that is what the poor beast answers to.”
“Ahh,” said Aethelstan.
“I know what you are thinking,” said the hunchback. “That we are the same, he and I. And perhaps, we are, somewhat. But my mother…” He bit his lip. “I suspect you have heard some small thing of her, and perhaps even formed an opinion. But for me--she is the woman who gave me life. And gave me love. And gave me a name that the masters can never take from me.” He smiled and nodded to themselves. “They may call me what they like and I will answer to it. I’m not a fool, though it helps me if they think me one. But whatever foul name they choose to cry--in my heart, there’s only one name I truly call mine. The one my mother gave me. The one she whispered to me, when I was a small babe.”
“That seems a precious gift here,” said the Graharz.
“It is,” said the hunchback. “And it is a precious name, a kingly name.” He shook his head, letting loose a small laugh. “She named me ‘Marduk’. Me, small and twisted as I was and still am, that is the name I bear.”