Rosalinde tumbled forward when the orc escorting her gave her a rough shove. She landed on her knees and looked up at the throne before her. It was like no human throne she’d ever seen. The sides were constructed from large bleached animal bones tied together with intricate knots, the actual seat of it was of dark carved wood, and various animal furs were draped across its back. Its occupant was a large intimidating orc woman, her thick muscular legs spread casually with her chin resting on one hand as she peered down at her with dark eyes.
The woman was large and bulky, even for an orc, with dark black hair adorned with various feathers and trinkets. Her grey-green skin was marred by large scars, signs of obvious battle, and smeared across her face was blood red warpaint interspersed with the occasional dot of white paint. She wore clothing more scant than anything Rosalinde would ever dare to dream of wearing and was for all intents and purposes everything she had expected. Every bit the savage creature she’d imagined, except for her gender.
What she expected was a man, that was who she had agreed to marry. Or well, truthfully, less agreed and more acquiesced to. Rosalinde had joined the army to get away from her “royal obligations” in the first place. She was the youngest daughter out of four, her elder sisters already happily married off in arranged marriages all to benefit the kingdom.
To her surprise, she had been summoned and been given the dreaded news, anyway. She was to be married off to some orc warlord as part of a treaty between the band of orc warriors that had caused trouble raiding the outer settlements of her kingdom for years. She’d been furious at first, had been so careful to avoid this, but once told the deed had already been done there was no use fighting it. To refuse would mean potentially provoking retaliation against the kingdom, the last thing she wanted to be responsible for.
She watched the orc woman wave her large green hand and shoo away Rosalinde’s escorts. The other woman didn’t break eye contact while Rosalinde picked herself up off the floor and dusted off her clothes. Rosalinde felt like a piece of meat on display when the orc’s eyes seemed to roam across her body. She hadn’t wore anything special for the occasion, her last bit of spite before she resigned herself to her fate, just her normal set of armor.
The orc still had yet to speak and for a brief moment Rosalinde wondered if she couldn’t speak Common before cursing herself, inwardly. Of course she did, how would she have sent the missive to bring Rosalinde to her lands otherwise, no one in the kingdom spoke Orcish to her knowledge. She cleared her throat and began to speak, “I, ah, will admit that I am surprised. This was not quite what I had expected.”
The other woman raised one thick scarred brow in response and still said nothing. “I expected...someone of the more male persuasion,” Rosalinde continued.
That earned her a deep barking laugh as the orc woman rose from her throne and sauntered toward Rosalinde. She froze and wondered if she had offended her, bracing herself for an attack. Instead, the other woman simply stopped in front of her and raised Rosalinde’s chin with her hands, studying her face.
“Funny. I like you.” She moved Rosalinde’s face from side to side, studying it from different angles as Rosalinde was frozen in fear. Her voice was deep and raspy, but without accent to Rosalinde’s surprise. “I will admit, I am surprised as well. I expected some dainty human princess barely fit to lift a club, not a warrior. You will make a fine wife.”
She moved a thick thumb over Rosalinde’s lips, “Pretty, too. What is your name?”
Rosalinde shuddered but made no effort to move away, “Rosalinde. I don’t understand, I was told I would be marrying a man.” She tried to remember the name she had been told, “...Jahrukk?’
“Ha,” the orc laughed letting her hand fall from Rosalinde’s face. “Jahrukk was my father. I killed him and thus his wives and position are mine.”
“You killed him?” Rosalinde stammered her eyes growing wide. She had heard stories of orcs and their savagery, but patricide was another thing altogether. Did orcs murder their spouses if they were displeased by them?
“He was old and infirm, for a chief to be killed by one’s progeny is tradition in our tribe. I snapped his neck and he died quickly. No need to draw it out,” she shook her head. “We aren’t as savage as you humans paint us to be—It does not matter though, you will see in time. Come,” she gestured for Rosalinde to follow. “I know you are tired and tomorrow will be a busy day for us both.”
Rosalinde followed her to a separate section of the large cave complex. Clearly, where the orc slept. A makeshift bed consisting of various animal furs, pillows, and what appeared to be a large crude straw stuffed mattress laid in the center. To the left was what looked like a shrine with various animal skulls, herbs, and incense. To the right a weaponstand, where a large spiked club rested.
“Sleep,” the orc motioned to the bed. “I will be back later, there are last minute preparations I must see to.” Then, she left, and finally, Rosalinde was alone.
Numbly, Rosalinde removed her armor, placing it by the weaponstand. Once she was in her underclothes she laid back on the bed. It felt as if the world had been completely turned upside down, since she’d come here with certain expectations. Had resigned herself to an unsatisfying marriage with a man she could not and would not be attracted to. Yet here she was in the dwelling of a she-orc, to be married to her the next day.
Idly, she poked at her lips, remembering the way the orc’s fingers felt on them. As brutish as the orc was, Rosalinde was undeniably attracted to her. She didn’t want to, but she found her thoughts trailing to how it would be when her future wife was bedding her. Would she be as rough as Rosalinde expected? Would she even bed her at all?
Rosalinde pushed those thoughts out of her mind and willed herself to sleep. It didn’t take long for her to nod off.
Rosalinde awoke to the feeling of large hands shaking her body. She jolted upward and was met with the sight of another orc woman. The other woman was slighter and dressed quite differently from her leader. Her hands were painted a dark black with charcoal, her clothes less revealing, strings of beads and various animal teeth hung from her neck, and her hair was braided with various colorful beads.
“I’m Khadra, Rukkha asked me to wake you. Come with me once you are dressed, there’s much to do today,” she explained and then turned to face away from Rosalinde to give her some privacy.
Rukkha, so that was her future wife’s name. It hadn’t occurred to Rosalinde to ask and she’s glad Khadra mentioned it, the less things were awkward, the better. She dressed herself quickly and tapped Khadra on the shoulder to let her know she was ready.
She was led through a series of connecting caves where various other orcs stared when the two of them passed by. She felt uncomfortable as they stared, worried about what they might think of her, but held her chin up high. It was too late to back out now.
They eventually came to a cave that seemed to serve as the hub for some sort of religious practice. It was well lit by an assortment of various candles and the smell of incense lingered in the air. Built into the side of one cave wall stood an altar not dissimilar to the one in Rukkha’s room, some orc women on their knees in prayer before it.
Khadra steered her toward a group of waiting older women who looked her over from all angles, hemming and hawing as they spoke to each other in rapid fire Orcish. One of them produced a bar of soap and pressed it into Rosalinde’s hand. “What’s going on?” she asked Khadra.
“They’re deciding how to best dress you, but first you need to bathe,” she explained then pointed toward a corner of the cave that sloped downward into a large pit full of water. Rosalinde could see other men and women bathing themselves in it. “This water is blessed by our goddess. It is custom for one to bathe in it before marriage.”
“Oh,” she nodded. Rosalinde wasn’t shy by any means — her time in the army disavowed her of any notion of modesty. Still, the idea of baring herself before everyone here made her nervous. It was odd, but if she were to make this marriage work then she would have to get used to it.
Khadra gently prodded her towards the pit and Rosalinde disrobed, handing her garments to Khadra’s waiting arms and stepping into the water. To her surprise, none of the other bathers seemed to pay her much attention besides the occasional glance while she scrubbed her body down. She wondered if there were enchantments placed on the surprisingly warm water.
Once she was clean to her satisfaction, she stepped out of the pit. Then Khadra wrapped her nude form in a large animal pelt, “What now?”
“Now we must make you look nice for your bride,” Khadra said calling back the women from before with a gesture of her hands. “The priestesses will take care of you. For now, I must attend to other matters,” she clapped Rosalinde on the shoulder.
The dressing process wasn’t nearly as bad as Rosalinde expected. She was dressed in furs that were more revealing than she used to, but still was more covered than Rukha. The priestesses nimbly weaved her hair into intricate braids with beads, large fingers surprisingly tender.
After her hair was finished, she was lathered in fragrant oils and the priestesses set to work on painting her face. She sat still while one dipped a brush in a pot of paint and ran it over her lips, eyelids, and cheeks.
Once that was done, the woman held up a mirror for Rosalinde to look into. “You like?” she asked.
Rosalinde wasn’t quite sure she did, her face paint looked quite similar to Rukkha’s but with some major differences. She wondered if the markings had any specific meaning, or if it was just decorative. She didn’t voice her question and instead nodded, the other woman nodded as well, seemingly satisfied.
“You stay here with the rest of us until ceremony, bad luck to see your spouse before marriage,” she explained. “Khadra is bringing food,” she added after a particularly loud grumble from Rosalind’s stomach.
The meal Khadra brought was light and simple. A small stone plate with dark,coarse bread, dried bits of meat, sun dried peppers, and an assortment of nuts.
“There will be a feast tonight, once Rukkha and the others return from the hunt, as is tradition,” Khadra laughed when she watched Rosalinde nibble at the bread. “It might be more to your liking.”
Rosalinde nodded and continued to pick at the rest of her food.