In the middle of July
It was one of those hot summer days, when even if someone was sheltered by the woods, they would still feel their skin burning under the scorching rays of the sun. The blistering heat could easily make one lose consciousness if they didn’t have enough water or let themselves be exposed to the light for too long.
At this ungodly hour, when the sun reached the peak of its track and every sane animal was hiding in their nest, a lone creature walked through the forest, seemingly unbothered by the high temperature. His breaths were even and slow as though he was just taking a stroll on a fresh spring morning. His green skin glistened with sweat, but he didn't seem tired.
Orcs were famous for their endurance and ability to adapt to harsh environments be it extreme heat or freezing cold. Their skin was thick and hard, everyday objects couldn’t possibly injure it. Their bodies were strong, made of firm muscle and the required amount of fat as stored energy. Bards sang about their fierce nature and love for battle, but instead of heroes, they were depicted as barbarians who took pleasure in pointlessly slaughtering anyone and everyone in their way, taking their victims' valuables from their dead bodies. Their presence only brought destruction and chaos into the world, some said.
This orc, however, was just simply looking for raspberries, sour cherries, or some late strawberries, but what he found eventually was not what he was expecting.
He discovered the person under the thorny branches of a huge blackberry bush out of pure luck as he usually didn’t come here until later, when the small fruits of the plant were already ripe and sweet.
He had never seen elves before, so it took him a moment to realize that the scrawny figure in front of him was one of the long-eared race. He could immediately rule out the other being an orc and the remaining options were humans, beastkin, elves and fairies. The lack of round ears, animal characteristics and the fact that this person didn’t have wings excluded three of the remaining possibilities with only the elf race remaining.
Of course, he heard the legends and tales about the elves, which were passed down from parents to children, and which all described elves as ominous creatures who used their beauty to charm their victims, lure them away and kill them at night. Seeing the elf’s frail body, now he could understand why they would use such underhanded tactics, although he doubted whether only a single glance at a beautiful face could make this kind of magic come to life. He couldn’t help but wonder if this kind of sorcery really existed. He had already been watching the elf for minutes and he still didn't feel like anything had happened to him.
The orc squatted down to have a better look at the other. The elf seemed to be young, but it was hard to tell exactly how old he was, the orc couldn’t even guess it. Elves aged differently than other beings and even between elves from the same tribe significant differences could occur. Led by curiosity, the orc reached out to stroke the unfamiliar face. The youth‘s pale, spotless skin felt soft to the touch just like he imagined. He caressed his cheeks, traced his nose, his tender lips with a subtle rosy colour to them, then proceeded to brush his fingers through the silky, ivory locks of hair. He just couldn't resist, it was all new to him.
Even if the elf wasn’t moving the orc could tell that he must be exceptionally graceful. His body was slim, his fingers slender and obviously not used to wielding heavy weapons or other tools.
Although there were many things that he didn’t understand or only had a vague idea about, he knew that unlike orcs, elves lived in big groups, had their own place in the hierarchy and had their jobs to do and get paid for.
The orc wondered what the elf might be doing for a living. Was he an actor? A bard? Or something else? He had no way to be sure. Looking at the lad’s fragile physique and his now ragged, stained, but still visibly decorated clothes a new idea came to his mind. Could he be some kind of noble? That would explain why there weren’t any calluses on his skin. He looked at his hand again and lifted it, putting their palms together, comparing the size of their hands. Even though the elf’s fingers were long the orc’s hand was still easily more than one knucklebone bigger than the elf’s.
He absent-mindedly interlaced their fingers. It felt nice. Their hands looked good together. Seeing his greenish, strong fingers intertwining with the elf’s lovely, delicate ones was undoubtedly a sight to his liking.
Realizing what he was doing the orc abruptly jerked his hand away and looked at the elf cautiously. He had no idea what this strange, tight feeling in his chest was. ‘Is this the magic that the elders were talking about? Is it possible for him to bewitch me while being unconscious?’ he wondered a bit confused. ‘How dangerous…’
The orc examined the elf with a complex expression on his face. The boy had numerous cuts and bruises on his body, some looked pretty serious. The orc could see that the elf’s injuries clearly weren’t caused by the thorns of the blackberry bush, as they were not sharp, nor long enough to cut that deep. He looked as though someone had beaten him up quite badly. The orc wasn’t sure what to do. He should help him, shouldn’t he? His brain told him that he should leave the elf alone, as taking care of him would only lower his own odds, yet a faint voice he identified as his conscience said that he should at least give the other a first aid. If it hadn't been this strange feeling in his chest whenever he looked at the elf, he would have just ignored his moral sense and did what benefitted his survival the best, but now, for some reason, he couldn’t get rid of the urge to help him.
He leaned down and as carefully as he could got the elf out of the dense thicket. Only when he could finally move the elf freely did he see the nasty, deep cut on his back and the massive puddle of blood behind him. No wonder the boy was unconscious. He had severe blood loss!
The orc knew that he had to act quickly if he wanted to save the lad, but he didn’t have anything useful on him. He held the elf close to his chest with his hands covering the wound in a desperate attempt to slow down the bleeding. He started to run with all his might towards his shelter.
He sighed in relief and exhaustion when he reached the small hut. Kicking the door open, he hurried in and put the elf down on the table where he could quickly tend his injuries. First, he gave the elf a quick but efficient bath to get rid of the dirt and hardened, bloody mud on him. Then he proceeded to stitch up the deeper cuts and bandage the swallower ones without forgetting to put some smashed herbs on them to prevent infection and assist healing.
He didn’t know if he did the right things in the correct order, but he hoped it would work.
Now, as he didn’t have anything to do and because the elf was most likely not waking up for who knows how long, the orc set off to retrieve the berries he had gathered before the elf-emergency interrupted him.
On his way he realised that he had no idea how elves lived, what they ate, or whether they were vegetarians or not. He knew a bit about humans and the beastkin as they would occasionally wander into his territory, but elves lived so far from here that he never bothered to learn more about them. Now he regretted not asking about the outer world earlier. He could have found out these things if he had paid a little more attention to the teachings of his mother or to the conversations of his former pals.
It didn’t matter anymore though. He had no way to go back in time, so now he could only make the most out of the situation.
Later in the afternoon, he stopped by the river to catch some fish. Fish meat was quite tender if made in the right way and was easy to prepare. It also contained many important nutrients, and couldn’t be put in one group with the other types of meat like pork, beef or venison, so he hoped that the elf wouldn't have problems digesting it.
He ended up catching more fish than needed as he got lost in his thoughts circulating around the events of the day, processing all these new experiences. He still didn’t really understand why he decided to help the elf, but he definitely didn’t mind having more fish. He loved the taste of it, and even if they couldn’t eat all of it tonight, he could easily preserve them for later. Although he was a bit short on salt, he could still smoke or dry them today if he didn't waste time.
By the time he arrived home the sun had already set down, and it was getting darker and darker outside. He was a bit surprised by this. He had totally lost track of time and didn’t realise that this much of the day had passed already. He hurried inside nervously, thinking about the elf. What if he had woken up already and was now roaming around in his house totally unsupervised? The thought of this left him somewhat upset. He didn’t want a stranger to touch his belongings.
The elf however, was still lying on the bed completely unmoving and oblivious to the world around him. The orc sighed in relief and frustration. On one hand, no one had touched his possessions which was good, on the other hand the boy didn’t look any better than when the orc picked him up which was nowhere near as good. Yet the feeling that he didn’t return to an empty house, and that someone was waiting for him and needed him was rather pleasant.
He quickly shook his head to get rid of these irrelevant thoughts. "This must be the effect of his magic… It must be…” he said to himself, but he wasn’t sure who he wanted to convince. He tried not to think about it for now.
Putting down the basket of fruits on the table, he went out to scale the fish and remove their innards. Fortunately the river was close, so the fish didn’t spoil during the short trip home.
The night was approaching, he didn’t have much time left until the sky turned entirely dark. He quickly lit a fire in front of his house as he decided to start smoking one half of the fish while he would cook the other half of it. He cut the fish fillets into wide thin strips, covered them with the appropriate amount of salt, then hung them above the fire. Afterwards, he filled a moderately big pot with water and hung it above the flames as well. Maybe the fire was a bit too hot for cooking but he needed the heat to reach the hung salted fish therefore he just ignored it for now. The water began to boil in no time, so he threw the fish in, alongside some chopped vegetables and added a small amount of the few spices he had.
The soup was soon ready. The orc divided the content of the pot into two bowls and set the smaller one aside to let it cool down. He ate his own portion, swallowing rapidly. Being too busy and distracted during the whole day, he hadn't realized how hungry he had been until now. He had to purposefully slow down his pace in order to avoid choking on a bite of food.
Having eaten himself full, he picked up the other bowl and walked over to the elf. He sat down on the ground next to the bed as he ran into another problem. How could he feed an unconscious person? He had never done anything like this before.
Luckily, he didn’t muse on this for too long. Soon a passable idea popped up in his mind, and he acted accordingly. After standing up again, he grabbed a fork and mashed the ingredients of the soup into pulp. Then he pulled a chair closer to the bed, put the bowl on it with a small spoon, and sat down next to the elf. He lifted the elf’s torso up and letting the boy lean on his thigh,he tilted his head slightly back, and poured a small amount of pulp into his mouth. Then he tilted the lad’s head even more back, until the mush triggered his gag reflex, and the food smoothly slid down his throat straight into his stomach.
It took a lot of time to feed the elf all of the soup, but the orc wasn’t impatient. By the time the bowl was completely empty, half of the young man’s face was covered in pieces of the mush and his own saliva. It wasn’t the most beautiful sight to see, but the orc wasn’t disgusted at all. He gently wiped away the stains from the elf’s face with a piece of cloth, and laid him down to rest. He was deep in thoughts the entire time, still figuring out his own emotions. There was also the problem of sleeping waiting to be solved. He had no idea where he should spend the night. The only bed in the house was occupied by the elf and he was afraid of accidentally crushing him in his slumber if he were to rest there as well. However, sleeping on the ground didn’t sound too appealing either.
Eventually he just gathered all the spare animal hides in his home, put them next to the bed and lay down there. As his eyes closed and his consciousness slowly faded away, one last thing crossed his mind.
‘Well then, good night, elfie…’