Peasant Problem, Part 1

Peasant Problem, Part 1

Nov 01

Peasant Problem

The autumn air was crisp and smelled of lake fog and tart apples. In the dawn half-light, the paths that crisscrossed the forests of Camp Lavery were abuzz with bustling silhouettes, all heading toward the Lodge, where the Boy Scouts who used to summer there had their parade grounds. They came in cloaks and mantles, padded leather, denim jackets and wool peacoats, some still wrapped in their sleeping bags, some still wearing prosthetic ears and beaks. Mostly, they dressed to fight off the chill in the air.

Wayne had his hands lashed together behind him. One of the new players, an elf girl whose name he didn’t know, gave him a prod with her staff. The foam tip gave against him, even as he stumbled forward, freshly stoking his indignity. A newbie was his jailor. Wayne had been there for years, since that first silly, fumbling weekend. This was how he was repaid. He squinted against the coming dawn and felt the sting of green makeup in his eyes.

The anonymous elf led Wayne up a rocky incline, past the volleyball courts and delivered him to the parade ground. As he crossed the green rectangle in front of the Lodge, dew kicking up and clinging to his brown wool trousers with each step, Tom Courts approached him. There were five Toms at the LARP, so everybody called Tom Courts by his full name all the time. He didn’t seem to mind. From his fake white beard and off-white robe, Tom Courts was fully in character as Pastor Sukor, leader of the local temple and the most powerful healer in game. Sukor proffered a canteen and Wayne shrugged, trying with limited success to indicate his bound hands. The pastor lifted the canteen to Wayne’s lips and tipped the mouth of the canteen forward, fresh water spilling out. Sukor dismissed the elf girl with a nod, taking Wayne by the shoulder and leading him forward, silently, to stand beneath the bare flagpole amid a line of eleven other green-painted faces. Not twenty-four hours before, Wayne thought, the dozen of them had stood on the volleyball court scheming. In the harsh light of day, they were failures. The whole thing had seemed so perfect. Where, he wondered, was the hole in things?

Wayne was still puzzling it all out when The Count arrived. Instead of a horse or a chariot or a regal palanquin, the ruler of the Battle Country arrived in a puttering golf cart. Wearing a puffy shirt from a Renaissance Faire clearance rack and a cape that epitomized ‘dainty’, Darren unfolded himself out of the cart. He’d always been tall and lanky like that – Wayne remembered sitting in the sixth grade cafeteria, watching Darren fumble across the cafeteria under the weight of kids chanting “Lurch!” and grimaced again reflexively. Wayne had known Darren since before his freakishly tall friend had helped to found the Battle Country LARP, but now The Count stood in judgment against him. It was a betrayal, Wayne was sure.

An orc on Wayne’s left – Fat Chris – yawned, and Wayne was exhausted, too. He had been up all night, part of it in captivity. Tom Courts supplicated his fake pantheon for mercy and kept order over a line waiting to have oatmeal doled out of a giant pot by two sprightly gnome girls. Darren strode through the crowd, stopping to hear the entreaties of the LARP-populace.

Wayne wondered how these assholes could stay in character at this hour. He imagined asking Tom Courts this question and saw Courts in his mind’s eye, asking Wayne how he could not.

Darren reached the center of the parade grounds. With a flourish, he spoke.

“CITIZENS OF THE BATTLE COUNTRY! We arise this morning to find our lands shaken by tragedy. I have summoned those accused to stand here before you in judgment, and I assure you, citizens that justice. Will. Be. Served.”

Give it to Darren, Wayne thought, the man can act. For someone so unassuming in real life, so uncomfortable in his gangly body, The Count really came out of his shell when he was role-playing. Wayne considered that this was probably because he was pretending to be someone else, and wasn’t sure whether or not the thought made him sad.

“Those of you in The Vale last night have told me what occurred,” Darren continued, Count voice booming across the camp, “but the Battle Country is governed by laws and a spirit of fairness. There will be punishment for the guilty.”

Several of the orcs were blubbering, inchoate whimpers in their throats. Just to the left, Fat Chris had tears rolling down his face, streaking his shoddy makeup. Wayne had been stoic until now – had to be stoic, but now a worm of a thought crept into his mind. I’m doomed, it said. I’m doomed, I’m doomed, I’m doomed I’mdoomedI’mdoomedI’mdoomed.

“But,” The Count intoned, “we believe in equal time, and the perpetrators that stand accused will have a chance to speak. That is why I am convening my Privy Council to hear testimony from Grimgnash Hordecaller, chieftain of the Seven Skulls orcs.”

It took Wayne several moments to realize that he was Grimgnash Hordecaller.

Some Time Ago

“And then, just after midnight, during the bonfire, we were attacked by a hippogriff stampede!”

It was tenth grade and they were huddled around a round lunch table on Rib-B-Q day. Darren’s cousin Ralph had taken him live-action role-playing over the weekend, to a game in Delaware. It was called Ioun, which Wayne knew had to be a rip-off of the Ioun Stones from Dungeons and Dragons.

“Right,” Wayne countered through a mouth half-full of Rib-B-Q, “but guys in hippogriff costumes. How do you even take that seriously?”

“It’s suspicion of disbelief, Wayne. When I’m in cos-”

“Suspension, Darren. Suspension of disbelief.”

Darren fired back immediately: “Your face suspends disbelief.” Across the table, Jimmy Yeung slow-clapped while a few other sophomores groaned. “Really, though,” Darren went on, “when you’re out there and you’re dressed up, it’s easy to ignore the fake masks and the fact that an elf has a Slayer t-shirt on under his armor. It’s like…it’s like doing improv. Like you’re playing D&D and acting at the same time.”

Darren’s face was all twisted up from the effort of trying to articulate something that he didn’t have the vocabulary to communicate. “Look,” he said, with a bit of a stammer, “there’s another event next month. You guys should come with me.”

Wayne broke the silence first. “You really want us to drive two hours to play Hobbits in the woods all weekend? We could stay home, order some pizzas, and roll some dice.”

Darren gave a snort. “Well yeah, except that there are a lot more girls there.”

A month later, most of the table went down to Delaware for the weekend. Most of them told their parents that they were just camping. Jimmy Yeung had mononucleosis, so he had to stay home.

Now.

The Lodge only got used a few times a year, and now it was covered in dust. The waxing light filtering in through the shaded windows made the air look grainy like old film, enhancing Wayne’s ever-growing sense of dread. He stood in front of a long mess table as Tom Courts stood behind him, untying his hands. His wrists were raw where they’d been tied by a pair of overeager fourteen year olds. Mike J. and Mike R. he remembered, who were inseparable and dressed in all black; they used asinine swords, designed to look like giant keys. Anita the blacksmith had told Wayne that the swords were from a videogame. With Disney characters. No wonder, Wayne resolved, that those kids were terrors.

One of the Mikes had knelt on Wayne’s back, holding his hands steady, while the other Mike tied the knots – good, Boy Scout knots. Wayne could still taste the peat in his mouth from where the Mikes had tackled and held him. They had come at him from behind.

The Mikes were going to get hailed as heroes. They’d get titled, at least, for taking down the orc chieftain. Which was preposterous to Wayne. Wayne had been here for four seasons and still had no title. Because he was Darren’s friend. Because the staff wanted to avoid the perception of bias. Darren had told him as much when he’d pressed the issue. That talk was just one thing piled onto the list of problems with the game that led to what Wayne was already thinking of as the Volleyball Court Coup.

Darren sat at the center of the table, surrounded by his staff – Anita, Tom Courts, Sendhil the king of the dwarves with his atrocious Scottish accent, all the rest of Darren’s staff of cronies. Their stares bored into Wayne, and he felt himself starting to sweat.

The Count slouched in his folding chair, the facade dropping; he was just Darren again. His head sunk for a moment, and when it came up again he asked, simply, “What the hell, Wayne?”

It was a question that Wayne hadn’t really considered. He was angry. He felt slighted and betrayed. But not just on a personal level. He thought about the Mikes again, how he couldn’t understand why someone would want to play somebody else’s concept instead of making something on their own and there, maybe, Wayne found clarity.

“Count,” he said, launching into the gruff Tom-Waits-as-a-Caveman voice that he used in-game, “I don’t think we should proceed without the Orc councilor present.”

The council expected contrition. It hadn’t come. They were taken aback.

After a beat, Tom Courts looked at Wayne. “There is no orcish councilor. As chieftain, you know this.”

Anticipating where Wayne was going, Anita added, “The dark elves don’t have a seat on the council, either.”  She was trying to be conciliatory. She probably should have known she was making things worse. Some of the elves and gargoyles at the table realized this, as did the swarthy, beardless dwarf: Sendhil buried his face in his palm.

“They’re evil races,” one of the other voices at the table blurted out. Again, Wayne thought, not helping.

Grimgnash’s eyes lit up. “Then you admit this body has no authority over me,” Wayne improvised. “You openly admit your prejudice against the Seven Skulls orcs and expect me to submit to your rule? Laughable.”

Through his cleric’s beard, Tom Courts spat, “There are rules, Wayne. Procedures. You can’t just tinker with the plot.” Of course he’d say that; Tom Courts was head of Plot on staff.

Dropping character for a second, Wayne fired back. “Tom, there hasn’t been any decent orc plot for over two seasons. No orcs have title. Orcs can’t sit on the council. We’re ignored, we’re ostracized from the rest of the player community, though they’re content to accept our aid when there’s a mod that they can’t defeat on their own.” He paced in front of the table, stopping in front of Anita, the treasurer. “We pay to come out here each month and be ill-used. I refuse to accept that the only way out of that is to quit and go elsewhere and I refuse to play a game in which I have no agency.”

Wayne and Darren locked eyes. “You’ve had ample time to fix this imbalance. You haven’t. My people no longer recognize your authority to adjudicate us as a result of that. And you bring me in to punish me for playing the game the way I wish to play it. Weak.

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen. I am going to walk out of here, take the other orc players with me and return to our campsite. From there, the ball is in your court; send an emissary with a truce flag to us by sundown, or we are at war. And this time, it won’t just be the orcs. It will be the dark elves with us. It will be the other disenfranchised races. The guilds without influence. They will rally around the orcs, my friends, and we will come for you. We are relentless; we are orcs.”

With a deep bow, Grimgnash Hordecaller, chieftain of the Seven Skulls orcs, stormed out of the Lodge. Wayne was certain that he’d just done something awful and irreparable, but he knew that he’d take none of it back. As he walked across the parade grounds, the other orc players fell into line behind him, a bit hesitant at first, not knowing what just happened. Along with them came a handful of dark elves and some other stragglers of various races. The Country Guard brandished their weapons and created a human barricade, but the orcs kept walking. They knew that, stripped of their weapons, they couldn’t fight back in-game. They were willing to be martyred. At least, Wayne hoped they were.

The guard captain, a particularly hawkish teen who Wayne never liked, was about to call the order to attack, when the voice of the Count broke out from the doorway to the Lodge. “Guards, let them pass!”

The players all looked bemused. They were all anticipating the fight. Wayne smiled at the hawk, knowing his cockiness would result in bruises later. He no longer cared.

The Hawk looked back at Darren for instructions. Once more, the Count’s voice boomed, “Escort the townsfolk back to their camps and then we will meet to discuss our defenses. Let all the Country know we are at war with the orcs!”

Just like that, Wayne knew the end had begun.

1 comment

  1. The Other Erin

    You are so my hero.

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