Kragon’s axe dripped with hot dwarven blood. His own blood raged within, filling his heart with the thrill of combat. He breathed in heavy breaths, falling to an aggressive stance, ready to face the remaining warriors… but they dropped their weapons and fled.
“Cowards!” he bellowed and threw his axe after them. The double-edged steel monstrosity rammed itself into a tree trunk, clipping the tip of a dwarf’s helmet, causing the man to triple down on the running.
The rest of the orcs came up to Kragon, their weapons clean as the day they were forged. Kragon had beat them to the killing, his thrill for combat uncontested and unstoppable.
“You did it again, son of Khan,” said Jurha, the group commander. She panted as she surveyed the battlefield of about a hundred slain dwarves. “You left none for us.”
“You’re welcome,” Kragon said, heading to the tree to pull out his axe.
The orcs, upon seeing they came too late despite running with full speed after Kragon, dropped down to the ground, catching their breaths. It was pathetic.
“He single-handedly dealt with the whole dwarven garrison,” one of the orcs commented. “Again.”
“Yeah,” another said, as Kragon gripped the hilt of his axe, about to pull it out. “But that’s nothing compared to his bowling game.”
Kragon’s hand slipped on the handle, dwarven blood making it sleek. He sighed. Here we go again…
“I agree,” another orc said with a squeaky voice. “That game was unbelievable, I tell you. I saw him play with my own eyes!”
“You did not!” someone yelled. “Lucky bastard!”
“Yes,” the squeaky one said. “It was quite something. Might even be the best game of bowling ever played. The way our son of Khan rolled those human heads into those wine bottles… it was poetry in the making, I tell you!”
Kragon tightened his jaw and pulled the axe out in a fury. The trunk cracked and the tree fell as if kneeling before Kragon’s indignation.
Always the same story, he thought, heading back up to the group. No matter how many a foe I slay, they always talk of that game…
One of the orcs imitated a fancy swinging motion, demonstrating how Kragon allegedly launched the human head into the pins, smashing them all in a strike. The group cheered and laughed, highly amused by the performance. They talked loudly about it, not even attempting to hide the gossip. Shameless bastards.
“I’m right here, you know,” Kragon growled as he reached the group, bloody axe on his shoulder.
“The bowling hero returns,” the orcs exclaimed. Some actually bowed. “Oh, master, we are honored by your presence.”
Kragon let out a low growl. “You dare mock your future Khan?”
“Not at all, master,” the squeaky-voice orc said. “On the contrary, some of us would like to learn from you…”
“Bah!” Kragon waved a hand and stormed past the group. “Jurha! A word!”
The group commander stopped beating up a dwarven survivor and stepped up. “Yes, son of Khan? This dwarf wouldn’t tell where their fortress is hidden, so I-”
“Nevermind that,” Kragon said, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her away so they could talk in private. “I need to ask you something.”
“Oh,” she said, her green skin flushing yellow obviously. “I’d be honored to be the wife of such a fine warrior. A master at bowling, nonetheless.”
Kragon blinked. “What? No! Foolish woman, is that what you think?” He looked her up and down, raising an eyebrow. “Okay, maybe later. But that’s not what I wanted to ask.”
“What is it then?” she said, somewhat insulted.
“I hear the men talk and I’m wondering… You know me well, we’ve been raiding for years now...” He sighed. Did he really need to ask? She already gave her answer. “What do you think, how will I be remembered?”
“As the son of Khan, one day as Khan himself, a great warrior and uniter of orcs-”
“As I said, I’d be honored to be the wife of such a great bowler.”
“Insufferable!” He kicked a nearby corpse so hard its head tore off and rolled over the battlefield. The orc group turned their heads.
“Look!” one exclaimed. “Son of Khan is bowling again!”
The dwarf’s head rolled to the other side of the stronghold, crashing into a stash of spears leaned against the wall, collapsing all of them.
“Strike!” an orc yelled. The group erupted in cheers. Kragon roared in frustration and anger, but the others mistook that for a battlecry and cheered some more. Kragon shut his mouth and instead picked up Jurha, heaving her over his shoulder and running off with her into the woods.
“Stupid blockheads, why can’t they remember my glory as a warrior?” Kragon paced around a campfire, still frustrated. Making love with Jurha helped ease his nerves a little until the woman commented how his hands seemed almost made for holding heavy round objects…
She meant it in a seductive way, not a bowling ball, he told himself. But the image was burned in his mind and that was it.
He slumped down on a rock, poking the flames with a stick. A bottle of wood-elf wine rested next to him and he worked diligently on emptying it.
“I fought and bested a whole army of dwarves,” he murmured to the fire. “This today was nothing. Barely got me sweating. I’ve slain a warlock once, and all his wicked followers! But did I get any praise for that? No!”
The bottle became lighter as the wine flowed down his throat.
“Defended the borders of our homeland countless times,” he slurred. “Not once did I hear a song being sung about me by the campfire. Not once did they dance to my bravery and glory. Can you believe that?”
The fire spurred up a cloud of embers.
“I can’t accept that!” Kragon shouted. “I even fought and killed a dragon last winter, when it descended from the mountains, wanting to claim our cave as its new lair. Ha! Oh, I can still feel its fire scorching me as I dream of the fight. Still taste my own blood boiling in my mouth, still feel the pressure on my arms from ramming that spear into its gut…” He trailed off, a distant expression growing on his face. For a moment, he dozed off, but as he nearly dropped the bottle, he shook back awake, face twisted in anger. “But do they make statues of me? Do children play in the woods, pretending they’re me, the hero? No! No, they don’t! All worship my father, Bolg the Conqueror, as their hero!”
Kragon chugged the bottle dry. “Sure,” he slurred, drooling. “He united the orcs, but that was decades ago. Now, we’re invaded from all sides again. And I’m the one defending it all. I’m the one bleeding for my people, wielding my blade from dusk ‘till dawn and beyond. Don’t get me wrong, though, I enjoy it. But I’d also like to be remembered for it, be appreciated for what I do.” He leaned closer to the fire. The flames swayed a little as if wanting to get away from his breath. “But despite all my glorious deeds, do you know how they remember me? Come on, take a guess.”
He leaned back, waiting. His eyelids moved in laborious, slow blinks.
The fire popped an ember, the little orange ball rolling on the ground, hitting a bunch of leaves and knocking them over.
“NO!” Kragon bellowed. “NO NO NO!!!” He jumped up and started kicking the fire. He didn’t care if he hurt his toes or burnt his feet. The anger and frustration were too much.
“I’m not even good at bowling!” he screamed, trampling the flames. “It was one time and we were all drunk! I got lucky and knocked the bottles - do you know how difficult it is to make a human head roll straight? It was luck! I suck at the game!”
A loud crack sounded behind and Kragon turned, noticing a group of trolls lumbering from the woods, into the firelight. The wine in his veins numbed all fear and all thrill to fight, leaving only bitterness.
“What do you want?”
The trolls looked at each other. “We overheard you talking to yourself,” one said in a deep voice. “Is it true? Are you the best warrior among the orc people?”
“That I am,” Kragon declared with as much pride and dignity as he could muster, wobbling on his feet. He cursed and jumped as he realized he stood in the dying fire.
The trolls turned heads together in a quick council. “Well then,” the same one said. Kragon noticed he was taller than the others - tall even for troll standards. “We were going to invade your tribe and kill everyone, but it seems like a lot of work. Why don’t we settle this like our grandfathers used to, with a fight between two best warriors, to determine which side wins?”
Kragon narrowed his eyes. It was getting difficult to see for some reason. Perhaps the dying fire or the burning alcohol.
“So,” he mumbled, “I fight your best warrior and whoever wins gets to conquer the other’s tribe?”
“Yes,” the troll said. “This way we avoid unnecessary bloodshed and the victor gets a glorious fight.”
“Women and spoils?”
“Go to the victor.”
“Land and men?”
“To the victor; the men become slaves.”
“So if I win, all of you belong to me?”
“Yes,” the troll said. “And if I win you and your people are mine.”
“Hm,” Kragon rubbed his chin. “I’d have to check with my father…”
“Sure,” the troll said and reached in his giant pouch, which Kragon didn’t notice before. He pulled out a bundle of cloth. “Here, ask him.”
Kragon watched dumbfounded as the troll unwrapped the bundle and revealed an elderly orc, all tied up with ropes.
“Evening, son,” the Khan said. “We’ve got a bit of a situation.”
“The trolls came to me, demanding to fight our best warrior - just as you’ve heard. I told them we don’t have a ‘best warrior’-”
Kragon’s eye twitched.
“-But we do have a ‘best bowler’. And they agreed. Go get ‘em, son!”
Kragon blinked. “What. Did. You. Do?”
The troll stuffed the eldrrely orc back in the bag. “Your father agreed upon a duel. Since your strength is inferior to our own, it wouldn’t be a fair fight, you see, us beating each other with clubs. I’d squish you. Instead, we’re going to play a game.”
“You said you were a bad bowler?”
“Please, god, no…”
The troll smiled. “Well, how lucky for us.”
Kragon was never so split inside as he was at that moment. On one hand, he had the chance to save his people in front of everyone’s eyes and make sure he gets remembered for it for generations to come. But on the other hand, if he saved his people, he would forever be remembered as the greatest bowler that ever lived among the orcs.
And bowling wasn’t even a masculine sport.
“You can do this, son,” a voice said from the troll’s bag. Both orcs and trolls were gathered out on a vast grass field, a piece of land dividing the two tribes. Everyone was armed to the teeth in case there came to battle. But Kragon could clearly see, even though he was still drunk from last night, that there was no way for the orcs to win. The trolls were massive, even though there were fewer of them.
The only way out was to bowl.
“Since we want to give you a fighting chance,” the troll said, chucking. “We’ve thrown away our boulders and steel balls and pins, and replaced everything with wine bottles and human heads. We hear you’re proficient in them.”
Kragon exploded inside, his body shaking with rage. He considered jumping at the troll, taking his chances in straight combat…
“Son,” his father spoke from the bag. “Think of your future people. How do you want them to remember you as?”
Kragon bowed his head to the irony. It was all so gloriously stupid that it made him smile. So be it.
“Head,” he said and extended an arm. One of the trolls gave him a fresh human head like he would be handing a blueberry between his fingers. Kragon took it, sniffed it, weighed it and shook it, listening for any splashing sounds on the inside, checking if the head was foul. Satisfied, he cracked his neck and took a stance.
Everyone went quiet. The trolls stopped chuckling, the orcs stopped cheering. They just watched.
Kragon took a deep breath and raised the head up to his face. He focused on the pins - the empty wine bottles up front - and visualized the head smashing into them. Then he stood up on his toes and took a running start before an idea struck him.
He launched the head straight into the tallest troll.
Everybody froze, not expecting it, and some even thinking that Kragon sucked so badly he missed the bowling lane. The troll champion took the full hit of the human head right into his face, the head smashing upon impact like a ripe watermelon. Pieces of brain and skull got into his eyes and the troll cursed, temporarily blinded. Kragon took advantage of it and ran up to the troll, taking the giant cleaver, tucked at the troll’s waist. The weapon was crudely forged and nearly as big as Kragon himself. It was as heavy as a mountain, but indignation, mixed with rage and irony gave Kragon the strength he needed to wield it.
The troll swiped the brain from his eyes, just in time to see Kragon jump in the air and bring the troll’s own weapon in a broad sweep. A quick gasp was all the troll could do, as the blade cut his head clean off his massive shoulders. To Kragon, it felt like cutting down a tree with a single swing.
The head fell and the rest of the body followed, shaking the ground as it crashed. Kragon landed back on his feet, embedding the cleaver into the soil. Both orcs and trolls were stunned by the performance, and they just stood and watched.
Kragon walked over to the troll’s head, picking it up and heaving it to the bowling lane. It was heavier than he expected, but at least more round than that of a human. He threw it on the grass and gave it a good kick. The head rolled on the lane, jumping at bumps on the ground, headed towards the pins with the troll’s expression of utter shock on its face. Kragon crossed his fingers as everyone watched in a mix of shock, incredulity, and wonder.
The head rolled forward…
...and smashed all the bottles. It was so big that it was hard to miss them.
“Trolls!” Kragon shouted as the last bottle fell. “I have bested your champion, not only at your game, but in combat as well! Is there anyone to deny me victory?”
His heart thumped in his chest, his head banged with a hangover. Kragon hoped the others didn’t see that he was scared shitless.
Apparently, they didn’t. The orcs erupted in a thunderous cheer and the trolls, upon regaining their wits, dropped to their knees and bowed.
“What happened?” Khan’s voice came from the bag. “Did we win?”
“Kragon! Kragon! Kragon!” the orcs shouted in union. “Trollhead Bowler! Trollhead Bowler! Trollhead Bowler!”
“Master Kragon, Trollhead Bowler,” the trolls said. “We bow to your glory.”
Kragon stood there, deciding if this was all real or just a drunken dream. He wasn’t sure when his orc brethren picked him up and raised him in the air. He wasn’t sure when the trolls showered him with their gold and women. He wasn’t sure when someone helped his father out of the bag and the old man handed his crown to him. He wasn’t sure even when a year passed and they built statues of him, composed songs, spoke stories and praised him for his glory, spreading the word far and wide of Kragon, the protector of orcs and conqueror of trolls.
But what convinced him of the truth of it, was when he saw kids play outside, pretending they were him, using heads of whatever creature they could find and tossing them into bottles or bricks or spears leaning against a wall.
Kragon was celebrated, just as he always wanted to be. And he was pretty sure the people would remember him even after he is gone. Though it wasn’t exactly how he envisioned his legacy would look like, his people were safe and their enemies defeated.
“What a messed up and strange world,” he whispered to himself, looking at his people from his father’s tribe hall, now his. Jurha, his wife, held their newborn baby in her arms next to him. A troll slave waved a palm leaf over his head and orc warriors of his personal guard amused themselves with rolling a human head down the hall.
Kragon smiled, caressed his wife’s cheek, kissed his son, and went to join his men, offering a few tips on posture and stance.
He was, after all, a bowling legend. A living legacy.